"Lot number 484, a pair of overstuffed armchairs with separate cushions," said the auctioneer, John P. Gallogly, the president of C.G. Sloan and Co., Washington auctioneers and appraisers since, roughly, 1853. The estimated price in the sale catalog read "$200-300," but no one said a word.
"They came from Fireuze House ," said Gallogly in some exasperation at the lackadaisical crowd. Two perfectly good armchairs in tasteful, neutral oatmeal going unappreciated - chairs good enough to reside for a time at least, in Firenze, one of Washington's finest homes. Last October, with its 22 acres along Albermarle Street and Broad Branch Road, Firenze House was sold by Mrs. John A. Logan (the former Mrs. M. Robert Guggenhcim) to the Italian government for $4,335,000.
"Thirty-five," said someone sitting up front. And in seconds the chairs werewold for $70, not a princely sum, but enough to keep Sloan's public estate auction. Thursday through yesterday, moving ahead.
What's in a name? Not everthing, certainly, but in the auction business, names do count. Besides Firenze and Polly Logan, the catalog ($6, or $8 by mail) listed the estates of Mary Brownell Behrend, Elizabeth Kendall Underwood and Delia Pleasants. Connoisseurs would know, of course, that Mary Behrend was the widow of the founder of the Haverhill paper company, that Elizabeth Underwood was the daughter of the artist Sargant Kendall, that Delia Pleasants was the daughter of J. Hall Pleasants, a leading authority on Maryland painting and silver; that, in short, all three possessed fine, valuable things well worth collecting.
Of course, there were other consignors and other estates. The largest bronze collection ever offered for sale in Washington was auctioned for sale in Washington was auctioned off Saturday, consigned by a woman from Baltimore who wished to remain anonymous, but who, said a spokesman for Sloan and Co., was selling her art to by a horse farm.
And while her property wasn't singled out in the catalog, the name Gladys Hinckley Werlich was invoked often, for many of the Oriental rugs and much of the Gothic furniture, the Russian icons, the Flemish tapestries, and figurines had been hers. She died last spring from injuries suffered when four youths attempted to steal her purse as she walked a few yards from her turreted Victorian house on 16th Streets. Her son had consigned her various artifacts to Sloan, except for a collection of John Rogers polychrome plaster sculpture "groups" which he gave to the Smithsonian.
Louis Segal, another Sloan auctioneer, found himself pleading with the crowd for a bid on "Lot number 554, and old Italian procelain fountain figure, Triton drinking from conch shell; with gilt accents," which Mrs. Werlich may have picked up on one of her many sojourns abroad. "A very decorative piece," he said, as indeed, it was Even so, nobody would bid $100 on it, and Segal, always a quick talker grew as desperate as a racetrack announcer who can't quite make out which horse's nose is leading the pack.
"Very decorative," he said. "Doesn't anybody owe me $100 for this piece, out of the Werlich home? Please! Mrs. Werlich, I hope you're not watching me . . ."
That may have been just what was needed to get the bedding going. The Italian porcelain fountain figure, Triton drinking from a conch, went for $150.
Sometimes, as in last fall's Sotheby Parke Bernet auction at Carter Hall in Millwood, Va., the drawing power of a name brings higher prices. But Russell Burke, a Sloan spokesman, thinks the "Firenze" tag may have frigtened off a few buyers. Although "well-attended," with a standing-room-only crowd yesterday, (when the rarer and more expensive things were sold) the sale set no record prices. Judged "fair, overall" by Burke, prices were generally about 10 per cent below the low presale estimate, when ordinarily they would have been about 10 per cent above it.
"People might have been intimidated by the fact that these things were coming from a great home, and they may have thought they wouldn't be able to afford anything," Burke said. "As a result, there were quite a few bargains. When nobody's bidding, the prices, ah, go down."
But some things went higher than expected, he added, notably an antique Italian silver ewer which turned out to be considerably older than the 18th-century vintage assigned it. "Probably the most important piece of silver to come on the market," said Burke of the $7,500 "sleeper," bought by a New York dealer who is rumored to be planning a resale in Geneva.
The four-day event brought in $865,000 a spokesman said last night, expressing pleasure over the outcome.
There was something for everyone in the course of four days, from a polar bear rug to the archangel Michael slaying a devil (in ivory, gold and silver set with semi-precious stone), from the Kirman palace carpet which used to grace Firenze's drawing room to a carved alabaster lion with electricfied eyes base, signed "Petrilli, Firenze" - Florence, Italy, that is - which was consigned by a man from Scranton, Pa.
Asked what pieces she particularly would miss, Polly Logan replied by phone from her home in St. Croix, "My hall porter's chair (an upholstered, high-backed and ceilinged affair, which sold for $350) and the Teniers, of course (a 7-foot-8-by-14-foot canvas known as "The Wedding Feast," attributed to David Teniers, the Elder, which brought $6,000). Our new house on S Street just doesn't have room for them."