The unparalleled American furniture and decorative arts collection assembled by Miriam Hubbard Morris for The Lindens, her 1754 mansion on Kalorama Road, brought $2,328,386 Saturday during a sensational auction at Christie's in New York. The total was almost $1 million higher than the official presale estimate of $1.4 million.
The highest price--$308,000--was paid by an anonymous bidder for a set of 12 dining chairs, described as "extremely rare and important," which Morris bought for $10,000 in 1950. The carved mahogany Chippendale-style chairs were made in New York between 1765 and 1785 for Matthew Clarkson, a Revolutionary War general. This is thought to be the only set of well-documented New York ball-and-claw-foot chairs of the period that has stayed together.The set tripled its pre-sale estimate and established a record for a set.
The biggest spenders spender of the sale were was Israel Sack, the New York antique dealers. In 1934, the late founder of the company had sold the house The Lindens, then standing in Danvers, Mass., to the George and Miriam Maurice Morris. The Morrises subsequently had it moved to Washington and rebuilt.
Harold Sack, who now heads the company, paid more than $1 million for some of the most choice pieces in the sale, including a record $264,000 (the second highest price of the auction) for the Chippendale mahogany serpentine back sofa, which Morris bought for $1,600 in 1931. It is believed to have been made in Philadelphia between 1765 and 1785 by Thomas Affleck, and is one of only eight double-peaked camelback sofas known to exist, most of which are in museums. The previous record price for an American sofa was $60,000.
Sack also bought the next most expensive pieces. A Philadelphia-made (1765-1780) Chippendale carved mahogany chest-on-chest brought a record $242,000, against a pre-sale estimate of $150,000. In 1950, Morris paid $7,225 for the chest, which is notable for its swan's-neck pediment and rosettes, carved by Jesse W. Blair of Hanover, Pa. Albert Sack, a partner in the firm, lists the piece as "best" in his book, "Fine Points of Furniture."
The Sack firm also paid $99,000 for a Queen Anne walnut-veneer high chest of drawers, made in Massachusetts between 1730 and 1750, almost three times its estimate.
Some 60,000 people visited The Lindens over 50 years, making it the best-known private collection of Americana in the world.
Saturday, during the two sessions at the Park Avenue auction house, more than 650 buyers were crowded in so closely that it was often difficult to tell which raised hand belonged to whom. One Christie's officer said the auction house had never seen "such a horde of buyers. It was an auction in a sardine can."
Among them were many people from Washington, including Morris' family and the Norman Bernsteins, who are buying The Lindens for a price reported to be about $1.5 million, as well as representatives of the White House, the State Department Fine Arts Collection, Blair House, the Abigail Adams Museum, the Danvers Historical Society, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Maryland Historical Society and the Winterthur. Liz Shaw, a vice president of Christie's, said that more than 5,000 people attended the pre-sale exhibition.
When the crowd stood up after the record-setting auction in which every high price brought a ripple of gasps, there were several cries of "Did the Redskins win?"
Clement Conger, curator of the White House and the State Department, is believed to be the buyer, through a deputy bidder, of a Chippendale carved mahogany pier table, with a serpentine marble top, made in New York about 1760-1780, which went for $85,000.
The rest of the objects from The Lindens, including some from the library, will be auctioned by Weschler's in Washington.
John A. Floyd of London, chairman of the board of directors of Christie's, came over to conduct the New York sale. Of the 393 lots in the Christie's sale, a remarkable 99.69 percent were sold, Shaw said.
"When we loaded up the '30s or '40s faux bamboo garden furniture," said Dean Failey, Christie's Americana expert who catalogued the collection, "some of the staff thought I was crazy. But it brought $25,000. Even a 1950s book, 'Arts and Crafts of Rhode Island,' by R. Carpenter, brought $1,100. There was a tremendous sentimental interest in the sale. People, whether they knew her Morris or not, like to buy even a small object."
Failey said the collection was especially remarkable because "the Morrises were not millionaire collectors such as Henry DuPont and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch. They had a fat shoestring, that was all. Mrs. Morris didn't just go to a dealer and say, 'Buy me the best of everything.' She bought every piece herself, relying on her own eye, buying within her means. If she'd had just a little more money, this would have been the sale of the century. As it is, it was one of the two or three most important sales of American furnishings in the last decade."
Failey said he liked to think of Morris watching the proceedings from just above the podium and thinking, "Oh my, I didn't pay anywhere near those prices."