Wednesday, January 13, 2016


At the close of the eighteenth century, the newly born United States of America was a place of unbridled opportunity and optimism.  Americans were beginning to grasp the potential of their Democracy, both as a beacon of freedom and a rising economic power.  Symbols of the new nation were all the rage from the flag forged in the fires of the revolution to the Great Seal of The United States, first used officially in 1782 .  The new nation was quickly epitomized by the symbol of the Bald Eagle.

Over the last two centuries the American Eagle has been portrayed in countless stylistic interpretations.  It is truly ubiquitous, appearing on everything from U.S. currency to Harley Davidson motorcycles. My very favorite interpretation of this patriotic symbol is the classic early 19th C. Federal eagle.  These examples often have gracefully curved spread wings and an open beak.  The quality of carving is often masterful, with paint
decoration and of course gilding. 

Carved eagles are truly works of art.  Skilled carvers could transform a block of pine or hardwood into a detailed three dimensional emblem of their nation.  Surfaces with thick quality gilding shine two centuries later as if they were solid gold.  We have two 19th C. eagles for sale in our January 16th auction.  I am asking for our bidders to do their patriotic duty and bid early and often on these wonderful works of art!

Monday, January 4, 2016


The fortunes of war have placed more Japanese Samurai Swords in the United States than in their country of origin.  Following Japan's surrender in 1945, the US military undertook a momentous task, the disarmament of the Japanese armed forces as well as the civilian population of the home islands.  The occupational forces scoured the country for military weapons, ordinance, aircraft, naval vessels and field gear.  All of Japan's military hardware was slated for orderly collection and destruction.  This regime of confiscation was conducted to pacify the potentially hostile population and prevent any continuing resistance by hard line military personnel.

This program went beyond demilitarization and included the Japanese civilian population.  The people of Japan were steeped in centuries of proud martial tradition. Many families descended from the Samurai class which had thrived in Japan for thousands of years preceding the Meiji restoration in 1868.  The vestiges of Samurai tradition resided in the homes of their descendants, most notably in the mythical and iconic Japanese sword.  Passed down through generations these magnificent and lethal works of art were cherished and honored.

In the 1930's the government of Imperial Japan launched a program to revive the martial spirit of Japanese society.  Propaganda glorified the Samurai tradition, the Samurai code of Bushido became the ideological manifesto.  Buddhist temples were closed in favor of state sanctioned Shintoism. The symbol of the warrior class was venerated again and given a prominent place in society, the traditional Japanese sword and its proud tradition was resurrected.  Forges were rekindled and sword making centers thrived once more.

Sword smiths tracing their lineage back hundreds  of years crafted masterpieces in the traditional manner and design.  Every officer in the Imperial Army and Navy carried a sword as a symbol of rank and martial status.  The quality of these modern Showa period swords varied dramatically from traditional hand forged blades to machine made examples, all appearing in period military mounts.  Some officer's preferred to carry ancient family blades in modern mounts, in a sense bringing their ancestral pride and tradition to war.

At wars end all of these weapons were confiscated by the occupying forces, many were destroyed, but many ended up in the duffle bags of soldiers and sailors returning home to the United States.  Today Japanese Samurai Swords are ubiquitous in the estates of our World War Two veterans.  As a result, the availability of these beautiful and iconic weapons has spawned a large and appreciative collector following in the United States.  

It is not uncommon to see Samurai swords offered at auction Today.  We are proud to have such an offering in our January 16th Art & Antiques Auction.  One sword has a blade dating to the Koto period.  It is a graceful beauty, with a tang signed by the smith who hand forged it over four hundred years ago.  It is housed in World War Two military mounts and carries a company grade officer tassel.  A family sword passed down through generations and carried by a high ranking Imperial Officer during the war.  Another sword crafted during the war accompanies it, it is also signed by a smith working during the Showa period in the proud tradition of his predecessors.  Both of these works of art are offered to the highest bidder with no reserve on January 16th.  See you at the auction.

For photographs and descriptions visit us at:  JJAMESAUCTIONS.COM

Friday, January 1, 2016

The Greatest Generation

In this business there sometimes seems to be a sea of interesting art antiques and curious objects lapping at the door.  These things can be described, measured, photographed, researched and dated.  This process helps us to understand them, to know what they are, maybe even affix a dollar value.  Unfortunately these objects usually appear out of context, without provenance their story is unknown.  Where they have been, who has possessed them or the role they have played is lost to time.  They are simply the sum of their parts and valued as such.  

On rare occasions an item or collection comes with a History, the story is intact!  Provenance can be the real value, whether a work of art or an antique.  One of these collections with a compelling story has crossed our threshold and will be offered to the highest bidder January 16th in J. James Auctioneers and Appraisers Winter Art & Antiques Auction.

The group consists of military documents, medals, a presented pocket watch, a US Naval Academy class ring, a cigarette case and finally a sword.  These diverse items have a common thread, they belonged to a decorated officer in the United States Navy who made the ultimate sacrifice in 1944.  USN Commander James Kent Averill was an aviator flying carrier based aircraft against a determined enemy in the Pacific.  

Averill's story begins with his graduation from the Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1927, went to war and served on USN aircraft carriers, U.S.S. Enterprise and the U.S.S.Yorktown.  He was part of a team of aviators which set a distance and speed record for the United States Navy, flying in formation from San Francisco to Honolulu in 1934. For this feat he was presented with a sterling silver cigarette case from the "WRIGHT AERONAUTICAL Co", commemorating the flight.

For his service, Averill was awarded the American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, WWII Victory Medal, American Defense Service Medal with Fleet Clasp, and the Legion of Merit.  He sadly perished on takeoff from the deck of a carrier, his body was never recovered.  A telegram and letter to his family sadly announcing this event are also included in the group.

The collection serves to tell his story.  It is a true opportunity for a World War Two Historian or collector to capture a glimpse into the lives of the men who fought and died in this war.  The collection maps out Commander James Kent Averill's life of service and ultimate sacrifice for his country.

Saturday, December 5, 2015


Diamonds seem to have a unique allure.  The sparkle is simply refracted light from crystalline surfaces polished and cut with artistic precision.  The stone is simply carbon born from billions of years of heat and pressure deep within the earth's mantel.  Diamonds are found in small deposits from Arctic Canada to Sub-Saharan Africa and although widely distributed globally, all diamonds are not equal.  Size, quality and cut determine value and the worth of these gemstones varies tremendously.

Our January 16th Winter Art and Antiques Auction offers a collection of vintage diamond jewelry of exceptional quality.  One piece however stands out from the crowd, it is a 1940's vintage round brilliant cut diamond set in gold.  What makes this diamond so special is a combination of quality and size.  This gemstone is a whopping 4.2 Carat weight!  It was purchased as an engagement ring by a Major League Baseball player with his World Series bonus.  

A stone of this size and quality is rare indeed and will be offered at auction.  Carbon born from the earth's crust over billions of years will grace hand of the highest bidder!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Pirate at the Table

September 19th is National Talk Like a Pirate Day!  This is definitely my favorite new make believe Holiday.  It is always fun to take on another persona and escape the workaday existence many of us lead.  Although my own life is sometimes mired in Mundania, in my work I am very fortunate. In the auction business, everyday is different, unique, a departure from the routine. 

I have very little control over what crosses our threshold and what I uncover in New England's stifling attics and musty basements.  Some days it is the rare and desirable, others it is just the flotsam and jetsam of objects from other (often deceased) peoples lives. But every day is different and every thing has a unique a story and connection.

I happened to be cataloging a piece from the Mayflower Society Collection which was fitting for September 19th.  A tavern table sat before me which may be the earliest example we have ever seen. The legs and base stretcher are elegantly vase and block turned oak. This ancient piece boasts a Queen Anne style carved apron and board top. The table shows the scars of three centuries, wear, scratches and what I just love to see, the small holes which indicate Powder Post Beetle damage.  This generally accompanies great age and often evidences a Cape Cod origin.

My mind begins to wander, could this piece have sat in the ancient Tavern at Point Jeremy in Welfleet.  It was a notorious haunt of the disreputable at the dawn of the 18th Century. Pirates were known to frequent this "bucket of blood". Buccaneers with Cape Cod ties include my favorite Samuel "Black" Bellamy, who lost his life as his Flagship the "Whydah" went down during a Hurricane in 1717.  Could Sam have sat at this table drinking rum and planning his next voyage?

Pirates seem to live in our collective imagination.  They were the original rebels and malcontents, living by their own code and often paying the ultimate price.  My imagination races to Nix's Mate, in Boston harbor.  It is an unremarkable pile of rocks which is visible only at low tide just outside the narrows.  This is the spot which the authorities hung gibbeted Pirates to rot and serve as a warning to all sailors shipping in and out of the port of Boston.  

Our auction on November 8th offers a rare opportunity to own this early 18th Century tavern table.  Pirate history aside this table truly speaks to you.  AAARHHHH Matey we hope to see you at the auction.


There is an item in our sale which you might call emblematic of the Pilgrim history.  It's inspiration stands on Cole's Hill looking over the harbor where the Mayflower lay at anchor Three Hundred and Ninety Four years ago. A larger than life bronze statue of the Wampanoag Chief Massasoit, by American Artist, Cyrus Edwin Dallin, (1861 - 1944). The statue was erected for the Pilgrim Tercentennial Celebration of 1920.  The figure is beautifully and gracefully executed, depicting Massasoit holding a peace pipe as if demonstrating his friendly intentions to the Pilgrims. 

Massasoit was indeed the truest and most constant friend to the first settlers of Plymouth colony.  The Wampanoag tribe under his leadership aided and protected the Pilgrims during their first tenuous years.  The natives taught the settlers New World farming techniques and educated them about the alien world they now inhabited.  In addition, Massasoit signed a military alliance with Governor Carver in 1621, ensuring his neutrality during the Pequot War in 1636.  He had a close tie to Edward Winslow, who nursed him while he was gravely ill.  One could say that early Plymouth Colony would have certainly failed without this native champion.

This bronze of Massasoit is quite rare.  It is a miniature of the statue on Cole's Hill and is signed at its base by the artist.  These beautiful works of art were sold to raise funds for the Tercentennial project and were given as gifts to dignitaries and supporters.  This example is in beautiful condition and is truly something to behold.  It has been deaccessioned by the Mayflower Society,  and will be offered without reserve at auction at our November 8th sale. Until then I'll see you at the auction!

Thursday, October 2, 2014


The Horizon was endless and Parkman was gripped with a raging thirst. The hunt had lasted since dawn and the noon day sun was scorching everything beneath.  His fellow hunters seemed immune to the elements, their focus completely on their prey.  Out ahead of him, a figure on horseback was flanking the small heard of Bison.  The hunting party had picked up this trail at the stream while watering their horses.  They had followed it for hours across the featureless expanse of the open plains.

Parkman knew his friends back east would never understand.  His mind wandered to the glowing Brahmin parlors filled with men talking politics and money, neither existed out here, only the hunt.  He snapped back as Big Crow let loose a war whoop, made his approach, drew his bow and released.  The gigantic bull crashed to the ground with such force that his body plowed a furrow through the dark earth and then lay motionless in the dust. 

Parkman dismounted and joined his friend by the stone dead bison.  He could not see the wound which felled this magnificent creature.  Big Crow said a few words with eyes to the heavens, then smiled broadly as he turned to Parkman.  The tall Sioux hunter reached across the bison's massive wooly neck and drew out his arrow, which was buried up to the feathers.  Big Crow handed the arrow to Parkman and silently walked back to his pony.  

This is how I imagine it happened,  one hundred and sixty six years and half a continent away. The arrow lies on a table ready to be photographed for our November 8th auction.  Truly a survivor, mid-19th Century American Indian artifacts are very rare indeed!  It was crafted in the 1840's and used by a free band of Oglala Sioux, when they were still the undisputed masters of the Dakota plains.

This marvel of primitive aerodynamic engineering carries a ground iron tip, tied with sinew to a wooden shaft with feather fletching.  The shaft is true and terminates with a deep notch.  It is a thing of beauty, a fragile work of art executed with remarkable skill, but made for a deadly purpose, in war or on the hunt.  A faded and yellowing tag is affixed,  which reads:

"This arrow was presented to me by my cousin Francis Parkman in his house in Jamaica Plain a year or two before his death.  It is the one of which he speaks in "The Oregon Trail" as having been shot into a buffalo up to its feathers by the Sioux chief who pulled it out and gave it to Mr. Parkman.  David Greenough, March 1930."

Additional documentation accompanies this incredible rarity, which follows its journey through generations of Parkman's descendants to the present.  A photograph of the arrow appears in the book "The Oregon Trail" and the arrow itself will be available at auction to the highest bidder on November 8th, 2014. I look forward to seeing you at the auction!