Skinner’s 20th Century Design auction was well received in Boston on December 14. Its success repeats the consistent pattern of Skinner sales: famous names and iconic objects, intermingled with obscure masterpieces and unexpected treasures.
The top lot of the auction, as well as many other pieces in the top ten, came from the fresh-to-market Nan Edwards collection of high-quality art nouveau glass. The rare red Tiffany Favrile exhibition vase, Lot 72, brought $33,210, far above the pre-auction estimate of $4,000-6,000.
The private buyer of the piece exclaimed to department director Jane Prentiss, “For the many years that I have been collecting Art Glass, I have wanted a red Tiffany to add to my collection. And then came THE ONE from the Nan Edwards Collection. I am very happy to now have such a beautiful “red.”
In 20th century design, as in every collecting area, the best of the best dominate the marketplace. Great names such as Tiffany and Nakashima—Lot 354, a Nakashima cabinet, was the second-highest lot in the sale—are dependable stand-outs at Skinner’s sales. What about the unexpected highlight of the kind for which Skinner is known?
The third-ranking lot was just such a Skinner surprise. Lot 328, two multicolored storage units c. 1958 by Henry P. Glass for his children’s line, fetched $17,220 over a pre-auction estimate of $200-300. Glass had a 60-year career in modern design. His futuristic yet functional furniture combined ingenious construction, economy of means, and creative use of new post-war materials such as aluminum and plywood.
These two storage units were part of his inventive Swingline children’s plywood furniture collection. The color-coded panels were intended to help children organize their clothing and possessions. Unlike many of Glass’ other innovative and practical designs, Swingline furniture was a commercial failure. But, as this sale proved, an appreciative audience is emerging sixty years later.
The growing audience for 20th century design is spirited and adventurous. Numerous buyers got back to Jane Prentiss to express their satisfaction with their purchases, often commenting on their pleasure in finding a long-sought-after piece. Jane reflects, “It was great to see such enthusiasm over this collection. It is so satisfying to link a seller to a new steward or buyer who is going to care for an object and enjoy it as much as the previous owner did.”
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