Four historic lots created a bidding frenzy that sent prices soaring past their estimates into six figures at Cowan’s Fall Americana, Including Fine & Decorative Art: Premier Auction on October 6, 2018. The $1.4M auction saw nearly 1,000 bidders participate in person, over the phone, or on one of three online bidding platforms as they competed over 537 lots.
“This really was a special auction,” said Sam Cowan, Cowan’s Director of Fine & Decorative Art. “I don’t know that we’ve ever had such a complete catalog from start to finish. There was something for every kind of Americana collector regardless of taste, interest, or budget.”
As expected, the favorite hunting rifle of John James Audubon (1785 – 1851), one of America’s most acclaimed naturalists, was the top selling lot of the day fetching $192,000 (including a 20% buyer’s premium), more than double its high estimate. Audubon’s journal indicates and family records support that his “Long Tom” fowler was his preferred hunting rifle during the period that he was preparing his seminal book, The Birds of America. It’s likely that this rifle was used to take many, if not most, of the birds collected by Audubon for the book that made him an international sensation.
“This is a holy relic for lovers of Audubon,” said Wes Cowan, Cowan’s Founder and Principal Auctioneer. “The rifle itself is a pretty standard hunting rifle from the time, but this may be the single most important tool in making Audubon one of the most famous naturalists of all time. Clearly bidders couldn’t resist the opportunity to own a piece of history.”
It was a record-breaking day at Cowan’s as the record sales price for sand bottles was broken not once, but twice in the matter of five minutes. A pair of sand bottles from Andrew Clemens (American, 1857-1894), one of the true masters of the form, was offered in back to back lots mid-way through the auction. The first lot of the two, an inverted bottle depicting a nautical scene, was the rarer form and was therefore expected to have the higher sale price. When it sold for $108,000, besting the previous record by more than $20,000, few suspected the record would last for less than two minutes.
The same two bidders gathered themselves and went at it again on the second lot, this one depicting an American spread-winged eagle underneath a flag of thirty-six stars on one side and a floral bouquet below the name Mrs. Eliza B. Lewis on the other. Bidding proceeded quickly and as the asking price approached $100,000, the salesroom began buzzing. When the bottle finally sold for $132,000, applause burst out in the room as onlookers shook their heads in disbelief, amazed at what they had just witnessed.
Rounding out the group of six figure sales prices on the day was the first portrait of Henry Clay (1777-1852) by famed Kentucky portraitist Matthew Harris Jouett (American, 1788-1827). The portrait drew significant interest regionally with many Kentuckians on hand for a chance to add it to their collection or to simply see it in person. Bidding escalated quickly between five phone bidders and multiple floor bidders before eventually selling for $108,000.