The Ellie Hoover Walker Collection

August 19, 2015

On Aug. 9, Skinner’s sold the Eleanor “Ellie” Hoover Walker (1924-2015) collection. The sale took place at Skinner Auctioneers’ Marlborough, Mass., facility. The company held a two-day August Americana sale on Aug. 8, and 9, which totaled $2,169,006 (including 23 percent buyer’s premium). At the beginning of day two, the Ellie Hoover Walker collection was sold in 324 lots (separate catalog) and totaled $1,042,265.
Ellie Walker of Hudson, Ohio, was a longtime dealer and collector. She loved Pennsylvania German material, New England furniture, and spatterware china, among other things. She dealt in quality country Americana and did business with many well-known dealers of the past. Among them included George Samaha, Mary and Tom Thornton, and Joe Kindig. She also bought from many others, including Gus Knapp and Ross Trump. Trump along with Ed Brown, like many of the old-time dealers, traveled east regularly on buying trips in the golden age of shop buying. Trump was a customer of Hattie Brunner and brought loads of Pennsylvania German folk art to Ohio. Walker was also friends with fellow dealer Fritz Ehrenfried. The two would do shows together, and Ehrenfried left a number of things to her in his will.
Walker was a longtime customer of Garth’s in Delaware, Ohio, and, on occasion, sold things through the auction house. She had a big sale there on May 5 and 6, in 1978, when she moved from North Canton to Hudson. Her first husband was a Hoover and an heir to the Hoover Manufacturing Company. They got a divorce, and years later she married Captain Lewis Walker Jr.
“We were honored to put a catalog and sale together for Ellie, who was not only well-respected but a genuine nice person,” said Chris Barber, deputy director at Skinner’s. The Massachusetts auction house did a fine job handling the sale and presented the material very well.
Walker was a collector who edited through upgrading her collections. She was active in the 1950s onward. Her spatterware collection included a number of pieces with rare color combinations, and most of it sold fine, given today’s market. Anyone who has analyzed this specialized field realizes it is not what it was 10 to 20 years ago.
Spatterware china or simply “spatter” was heavily produced in England largely throughout the second quarter of the 19th century and was a popular export, especially with the Pennsylvania German market. Yellow is a rare color in spatter. At this sale, a yellow covered sugar bowl with red thistle pattern sold for $984, and a yellow spatter plate with red thistle sold for $1,107. Walker was a condition conscience buyer, yet some pieces did have minor imperfections. A blue spatter teapot with peafowl decoration brought $431, a five-color spatter pitcher sold for $1,107, and a purple and blue spatter footed salt sold for $215. Rare color combinations and patterns sold well. A blue and green spatter cup and saucer in star drape pattern sold for $10,455, and a black and teal festoon pattern plate with sprig decoration in the center sold for $6,765.
The tin and chalk did okay, as did some of the formal furniture. Painted furniture and fraktur were strong overall. An octagonal form blue ground paint-decorated tin tea caddy with a bird sold for $1,230. A red ground paint-decorated dome-top document box with minor wear realized $1,599. A heart-in-hand tin cookie cutter sold for $677, and a large chalk seated cat with paint-decoration sold low for $677 due to restoration on the lower back side.
The fine walnut Dutch cupboard that housed the bulk of Walker’s spatter collection sold for $12,300. Only a couple pieces of formal furniture went unsold, including a cherry Pembroke drop-leaf table, a Connecticut high chest of drawers and a New Hampshire red-stained cherry card table.
A roughly 5-by-5-inch image size framed compass star watercolor sold for $3,321. A cross-legged angel artist fraktur sold for $4,920, and a reward of merit depicting a tulip stemming from a heart sold for $7,995. The reward of merit was estimated at $800 to $1,200. A George Schroyer, York County, Pa., long rifle sold for $22,140, and a small, red-painted watch hutch with tombstone glazed glass door and shaped crest sold for $7,380. A miniature paint-decorated cupboard attributed to Granville Pool of Grayson County, Va., with a green ground and floral decoration on the drawer fronts sold for $11,070. It held an estimate of $6,000 to $8,000.
An intriquing piece that sold toward the middle of the sale was the Sam Plank hanging box. Samuel Plank (1821-1900) was an Amish schoolteacher in Mifflin County, Pa. An entrepreneur, Plank supplimented his income by making and selling goods, notebly wooden paint-decorated salt boxes. The example sold here possessed a broken arch backsplash, a slant-lid top with divided interior and two lower drawers, on a salmon/ochre colored ground. Birds and floral design work embellished the front, top and sides. “There are three forms of his boxes, and this represented the third,” said Bob Conrad. Conrad was involved in the book project “Pennsylvania Folk Art of Samuel L. Plank” published in 1994 through the Kishacoquillas Valley Historical Society. This third form incorporated the broken arch back and was more fully developed artistically as opposed to earlier boxes. Many of the hanging boxes were painted on a white ground, which yellowed with age due to the effects of varnish.
A similiar box sold at the M. Austin and Jill Fine collection through Sotheby’s on Jan. 30, 1987, for $4,950. It had the inscribed names of both “Joseph J. Byler” and “Mary W. Hosteller.” Another similar example sold at the George Scott sale through Christie’s on June 11, 1994, for $23,000. The Ellie Walker example sold for a new auction record of $58,425 to dealer Philip Bradley in the salesroom. It was inscribed in pencil on the back, “Manufactured by S.L. Plank 3 miles South East of Allensville Pa. Price 1.25 Presented to Jacob & Lydia by Father and Mother Samuel and Catherine.” Samuel Plank’s wife was named Catherine. The two had many children, including a son named Jacob and a daughter named Lydia. The latter was born in 1853 in Port Royal, Pa. The former was born in 1864 in Allensville, Pa. The Planks also spent time in Illinois in the late 1850s and early 1860s.
Amish folk art from the Kishacoquillas Valley, typically referred to as “Big Valley” in Central Pennsylvania, is highly prized among regional collectors. Paint-decorated woodenware by the well-known Sam Plank, watercolors by Plank and others, and quality early quilts are all highly sought after in today’s market, as reflected in the price achieved for the Plank box in this sale.
A compass-artist dome-top box on a blue ground sold for $17,220. Inside the lid, it read “Valentine Hartman/Bought March the 22 1850.” There was a Valentine Hartman (1808-82) in Berks County, Pa. It remains unknown where and by whom these distinitive boxes originated from and were made.
The yellow paint-decorated Federal two-drawer stand with floral decoration on the drawers and black line banding and square tapered legs originally from Norway, Maine, circa 1830, was a headline maker when it sold for $116,850. It was estimated at $12,000 to $15,000. “It was found in Augusta, Maine, in the 1950s by Bill Samaha’s mother and cost $17,” said Barber. “It is probably the most pristine example of New England paint-decorated furniture we have ever sold. The condition was impeccible. It really energized the crowd and was something the market was excited to see,” said Barber. “It is a rare thing,” said the buyer dealer David Wheatcroft, who was bidding by phone on behalf of a client. “The condition was just unbelievable. It is the best,” noted Wheatcroft.
The captions tell more of the story.
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