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!