Horst Sells Clarke Hess Collection: Session Two

One More Sale Slated To Include Books And Manuscripts

July 5, 2019

A two-day sale on behalf of the Clarke E. Hess estate was held on June 7 and 8 at Horst Auctioneers’ facility in Ephrata, Pa. This was the second of three catalog sales and a downturn in terms of the overall quality of material compared to the first auction, which took place April 26 and 27. (For session one, see Antiques & Auction News, May 24, 2019, Vol. 50, No. 21 issue.) That first sale grossed $583,715. In between these sales, Horst sold the Hess Homestead in Lititz, Warwick Township, via auction on May 23 to a young couple for $542,000. Horst also sold a second property on behalf of the estate (originally part of the Hess farmstead) on June 20 for $391,000, also going to a young couple. That 5.9-acre property with a period stonehouse is situated near the Warwick-to-Ephrata rail trail. Session two, 603 lots, grossed $234,645. So far, with the two parcels of real estate, the estate has totaled $1,751,360. The third and final sale for the Hess estate will be held on Saturday, July 27, consisting of antique books, manuscripts, reference catalogs, and related material.
The second sale started with Indian artifacts, many being Susquehannock arrowheads and other relics. Hess bought much of it on eBay. A sandstone mortar and pestle sold for $45; a stone ax head, $75; and various lots of miscellaneous arrow heads for just $10 per group. Horst does not charge a buyer’s premium. Prices reported are hammer prices. A 10-percent service fee was charged to online buyers.
Stiegel-type glass continued to do well. It brought strong prices at the first sale. A castle pattern painted clear glass mug went for $500 (mint); two milk glass painted flip glasses brought $180 (damage); and a clear glass painted mug sold for $325 (damage).
Among the most newsworthy items sold was a little Mennonite powwow ritual doll and two asafoetida bags mounted in a shadow box, which brought $8,200 and went to the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society. Asafoetida is a plant in the celery family native to the Middle East, used in Indian cooking. It is not common in the West and has a history of use to ward off illness in certain folk magic practices such as powwowing.
Hess loaned the items for a recent exhibition on powwowing at the Glencairn Museum in Bryn Athyn, Pa. The Glencairn was once home to Raymond and Mildred (Glenn) Pitcairn and the couple’s children. It is a castle built around the time of the Great Depression. It now serves as a not-for-profit museum dedicated to religious art and history.
Powwow is a type of folk/ritual healing stemming from the Pennsylvania Germans. “Braucherei” in Pennsylvania Dutch dialect, or “powwow,” blends Christian prayer and folk healing. Combining a diverse array of methods, these rituals were used for healing the body, protecting it physically and spiritually.
Titled “Powwowing in Pennsylvania: Healing Rituals of the Dutch Country” the Glencairn exhibit featured artifacts, documents and photographs illustrating a wide range of expression within the ritual tradition over the last three centuries. It was a collaborative effort between Glencairn Museum and the Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center at Kutztown University.
The museum put out a catalog essay titled “The Heavens Are My Cap and the Earth Is My Shoes: The Religious Origins of Powwowing and the Ritual Traditions of the Pennsylvania Dutch.” The Glencairn museum is an interesting place that holds various programs and exhibits. Collections include everything from American Indian material to ancient Egyptian, ancient Greek and Roman, medieval Christian, Islamic, and Asian art.
The biggest story of the Hess sale, as with the first session, was the buying done by the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society (LMHS). Hess had a long involvement with the organization and not only left the group a large amount of his collections, but a share of the proceeds from his estate. “It will take time, but the possibility of some topically-related exhibits and published articles on some areas will provide various ways to make the things accessible to the public, which is our goal,” mentioned curator Carolyn Wenger following the sale. Wenger and librarian Steve Ness attended both sales. Ness did the bidding. “We had a quilt turning event earlier this year that was popular and could be done again,” mentioned Wenger. Twenty-two quilts were placed on a pile, and six people were on each side, and one-by-one, each quilt could be safely examined by the participants, and one-by-one they were removed until the pile was gone. Hess donated a number of quilts in 2017. He died the following year on Nov. 7, 2018.
Hopefully, lectures, exhibits, and special programing directly associated with the Hess collection or even a symposium could be in the works down the road for the society in utilizing the many items they bought and the many items gifted. “We wanted to keep as much as we could local, although some things were outside our collection policy,” said Wenger. The society bought a lot and were rarely underbid. Active buyers of fraktur, samplers, privy bags, and towels, the powwow doll was the most expensive lot they acquired in this sale and tied for highest selling lot of the second sale. A tall case clock (final lot of the sale) also sold for $8,200. The dial was signed “Christian Hall Lititz.”
It did seem to some that the society was indiscriminate in the volume of its buying and prices paid. In a time when most such organizations are concerned about long-range financial forecasts and planning, along with securing endowments, which is not to say the LMHS isn’t doing both, they simply could have bought comparable or better examples of many of the items for a fraction of the price had they had a long-term goal of acquiring a particular work by a certain artist. Not everything purchased had family histories known. Much of the Hess collection, came with minimal or no provenance. For example, the 2-by-3.25-inch watercolor of a bird attributed to David Fry was bought by the society for a staggering $5,200. Of course, there is always an underbidder. One frustrated collector was bidding up the LMHS on several items, including the little Fry bird. As for the bird watercolor, superior examples of Fry’s work have sold for far less in the public marketplace at both auction and at shows.
A small floral watercolor fraktur, according to Hess’s notes, influenced by the work of schoolmaster Abraham Brubacher, sold to the LMHS for $4,500. A sawtooth diamond quilt with two matching pillow slips, yellow and red fabric, sold to the LMHS for $5,400, underbid by Alice and Art Booth of New Jersey. The LMHS also bought a pieced privy bag, yellow and red fabric, with four eight-pointed stars, for $2,150, underbid by the Booths. It is certainly a record price for a privy bag, which is a unique Lancaster County genre/tradition that Hess was credited with being an authority on.
The LMHS in large part has made the market and padded the total for this estate collection. The Pennsylvania German market, from top-to-bottom, has proven to be relatively thin, like many markets, at least for the past 20 years, roughly since 9/11. It is well-known to market watchers, that the economic downturn following 9/11 took the art and antique market with it, and it has been a long road since.
It isn’t the goal of this auction recap to concern itself whether or not the high water mark of the late 1990s will ever come back around in this specialized field, yet it was Hess’s passion to document the history of Pennsylvania German material culture and, in particular, the decorative arts of the Mennonite people, so that is the focus.
Hess would catalog each item with as much background information as he knew. Many items had very little, some extensive. A resource, Hess’s inventory will remain on Horst’s website. Which sale and for how much it sold for has been added to each item in the online inventory. Some of this information is useful when it comes to family histories, yet only a handful of items had known provenances. As with the first sale, bidders with very distant or direct family connections to certain things tried to acquire items.
Maryland restorer and collector Jeff Ingram bought the ultra rare redware charger broken into eight pieces for $3,900. It was attributed to John Leidig (Leidy) of Souderton, Montgomery County, Pa., ca. 1796. The plate was once owned by Pennsylvania Governor Samuel Pennypacker, who loaned it to the Jamestown Exposition in 1907, where it is believed to have been broken. Given the breaks and that the pieces were together, it should come back together well.
That final sale for the estate on Saturday, July 27, will include an extensive collection of antique reference books and auction catalogs. The following is a brief listing of what will be sold: Lancaster County family genealogies; a collection of late 19th century Lancaster County trade cards; postcards; manuscript deeds and legal documents; public sale bills; Ephrata imprints including Martyrs Mirrors, Gemuths-Gesprach, Christen-Pflicht, Guldene Aepfel, Wunder-Spiel signed by Brother Jabaez (Peter Miller); Carlisle and Harrisburg imprints; Lancaster imprints; and European imprints. There will be many family Bibles, which will interest both direct and non-direct ancesters, including Hess, Hershey, Bauder, Longenecker, Kreider, and other local names. A weaver’s pattern book will be sold, a schoolmaster’s copy book, and much more.
The photos and captions tell the story of several items sold.
To contact Horst Auctioneers, call 717-738-3080.


More Articles