Wednesday, January 7, 2009

William H. Guthman's Incredible Drum Collection

The drums of William Guthman, sold with a portion of his substantial collection of militaria and Americana, are pictured below, all from the catalog of The William H. Guthman Collection, Part II: Militaria and Americana, Thursday October 12, 2006, The Frank Jones Center, Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Bill Guthman was a historian as well as a collector. In fact, one could say that he was a collector because he was a historian. He was fascinated by every piece he acquired, and he researched each new find with avid interest. It was this intense desire to uncover the story behind the object that made his collection so uniquely his.

Bill started collecting on weekend trips outside Manhattan, where he worked for a prominent retailer of girls’ frocks. Unable to confine his pursuits to the weekend, he began hunting in the city on his lunch hours, up and down Second and Third Avenues. And then, unable to confine these pursuits at all, he gave up his day job to become a full-time dealer and collector. As with any good collector, his enthusiasm for and joy in collecting bordered on obsession. But perhaps less usual, his passion was contingent on sharing the excitement – houseguests lucky enough to happen upon Bill in the throes of examining a new acquisition were quickly engaged in its study, and were then frequently treated to a tour of parts of his collection as well. He simply couldn’t bear to let others miss out on the fun.

As his family, we had the privilege of living amidst this passion and engagement every day. Life was a little more exciting when, upon each trip down the stairs, we were confronted by General Wolf, wilted gracefully in his picture frame, and casting his nobly resigned eye upon us as he met death one more time.

Although he started out focusing on guns, swords, and other paraphernalia of war, as he matured as a collector Bill became interested in an increasingly wide range of nonmilitary objects. He took up collecting ceramics, which most often bore decorations with patriotic or historical themes: Castleford teapots adorned with molded eagles, “old blue” Staffordshire plates with historic statehouses and other landmarks transfer printed onto their surfaces, and great rarities such as the “No Stamp Act” teapot. He also began to fill the rooms of his home with maple, pine, or cherry furniture made for solid, prosperous – but never grand – farmers, merchants, and craftsmen.

Bill loved quirky things, as is evident throughout his collection in the “make-do” features of many forms and media. One of his favorite items, which held pride of place on a living-room table, was a candle holder made from a cut-down mortar shell. He was also especially fond of chairs and tables with personality lent by painted finishes, ingenious repairs, or commemorative dates. That said, his infallible eye lit upon more traditional forms as well, such as the majestic Queen Anne arm chair and the eagle-inlaid desk included in this auction. In short, Bill could not resist a magnificent object, regardless of what exactly made it so.

When his furnishings and accessories were well in hand, Bill began to decorate his walls. Initially he searched out American folk-art paintings, but later replaced them with McKenney and Hall lithographs of important Native American leaders, complementing them with the superlative catlinite pipes hanging above and beside them. His great love of Native American art and artifacts was rooted in his early and enduring interest in the engagement of the white man and the Indian on the New England frontier.

Above and beyond the swords, tomahawks, armchairs, and teapots, Bill collected books about his objects, and about American history. When asked to lecture about his collection, as he often was in recent years, he always told the audience that his library was the most important single feature of his collection. Without his books, half the fun of collecting – the research on the newest acquisition’s maker, date, place of manufacture and use, and original owner, if known – would have been lost. Upon completing a deal, he would sit at the kitchen table for hours with his books open all around him, piecing together a story. When information wasn’t available in secondary sources, he turned to primary ones, frequently acquiring letters and period documents pertinent to his current project. He was often then compelled to write an article on his findings so that he could share what he had learned with the world.

Bill was fortunate in that he was able to build a life around the objects he loved. And it is fair to say that the world is just as fortunate, as his contribution to the scholarship of American history has enhanced and added color to our knowledge of the lives, occupations, and preoccupations of early Americans. His curiosity, intelligence, and knowledge inspired immense respect and admiration in us, his family, as well as in his colleagues, many of whom became close friends. To know his collection is, in large part, to know Bill, and thus it is with both great sadness and delight that we see it offered here for the next generation to love.

Elizabeth Stillinger Guthman
Pamela Guthman
Scott Guthman
Alice Stillinger
Amelia Stillinger
September 7, 2006


608 WAR OF ROSES PAINTED MILITIA SNARE DRUM, ABNER STEVENS, PITTSFIELD, MASSACHUSETTS, 1822 (?). Painted with a stylized rose flanked by smaller rose blossoms and buds against leaftips in red and green, the percussion hole within a blue and red star, surrounded by a circular border of nail decoration within diamonds, the interior with label inscribed “Abner Stevens, Military and Bass Drums, Pittsfield, 1822,” appears to retain its original red painted bands, rope, snares, top skin and carrying strap. Height 16 inches, diameter 16 ½ inches.

609 PAINTED SNARE DRUM, ATTRIBUTED TO ABNER STEVENS, PITTSFIELD, MASSACHUSETTS, CIRCA 1820. Painted with a roundel enclosing stylized flowers within a cartouche border of buds, berries and leaves, all in cream, red and dark green, the ivory-lined percussion hole within brass nail decoration in the form of a stylized flowerhead within diamonds, the leather pulls embossed with anchors, retains the original skins, red painted bands, snares and rope. Height 16 ½ inches, diameter 16 ½ inches.

610 TWO PAINTED AND NAIL-DECORATED DRUMS. Each painted around the percussion hole with a stylized flowerhead and foliage in red, green and yellow, further embellished with brass nail decoration in a conforming pattern, one appears to retain its original red washed bands, snares and skins, and bears the label of “New Military Store, J. & H. Meacham, No. 84 State Street, Albany...,” height 15 inches, diameter 16 ½ inches. Together with Susan Cifaldi, “Benjamin Clark’s Drum Book,” 1989. (3)

611 PAINTED MILITIA DRUM, “QUINCY LIGHT INFANTRY,” CIRCA 1790-1810. Inscribed “QUINCY LIT. INFANTRY” in red letters on a pale blue ground, the sides striped in red and white and within bright red bands joined by rosehead nails. Height 19 inches, diameter 16 ¼ inches. The Quincy Light Infantry was raised in 1790 by private charter, and disbanded in 1846 when its property was sold at auction. Literature: Discussed and illustrated in William Guthman, “American Militia Drums, 1775-1845,” THE MAGAZINE ANTIQUES, July 1982, p. 149, fig. 4.

612 IMPORTANT “BOSTON CITY GUARDS” MILITIA DRUM, PAINTED BY CHARLES HUBBARD, CIRCA 1824. Painted with an adaptation of the Seal of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts within flags and trumpets, the banners inscribed “City Guards” and “Instituted Sept. 1821,” the red and black striped sides within black bands, appears to retain its original skins and hoops, signed and dated beneath the shield “Chs. Hubbard./ Boston/ 1824.” Height 17 ½ inches, diameter 17 inches. Charles Hubbard (1801-76) worked in Boston from the mid-1820’s until 1869. In 1834 he advertised as a sign and ornamental painter, and painter of military standards and masonic regalia. This drum was painted for the volunteer militia regiment Boston City Guards, using their insignia adapted from the seal of Massachusetts as the decoration. Literature: Discussed and illustrated in William Guthman, “American Militia Drums, 1775-1845,” THE MAGAZINE ANTIQUES, July 1982, p. 155, fig. 12.

632 THREE PRINTS FROM “U.S. MILITARY MAGAZINE.” Comprising “To the New England Guards,” from "Life on Stone" by A. Huffy, P.S. Duval, Lithographer, Phil., and W.J.H. Hubbard printer, pl. 21, vol. 1; “To the Washington Cavalry of Phila Coty,” pl. 29, vol. 1; and “To the Philadelphia Grays,” pl. II., vol. 1; all three dedicated by Huddy & Duval, approximately 11 x 8 ½ inches. Together with a pair of colored engravings of an officer and a drummer, engraved by H. Bunbury Esq. and published by A. Suntach, sight 9 ¾ x 7 ⅛ inches; and “Arms Exercises,” two pages of woodcuts taken from a militia training manuel, circa 1820-30, showing “Funeral Motions.” (6)

637 PAINTED MILITIA BASS DRUM, FREDERICK LANE, BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS, CIRCA 1813-19. Painted with a view of Massassoit beneath a raised arm brandishing a sword, encircled by a red banner inscribed with the state motto “ENSE PETIT PLACIDEN SUB LIBERTATE QUIETEM (With the Sword We Seek Peace, But Only Under Liberty), within berried laurel branches, the shell painted with red and dark-blue stripes edged in mustard, with the original skins, ropes, hoops and iron strap hook mounted on an iron plate, the interior bearing a partial paper label inscribed “Frederick Lane Keeps Constantly For Sale at His Music Store at No. 79 State Street, Boston, Bassoons with Trumpets, Bird Organs, Tenor Violins....” Height 22 ½ inches, diameter 24 inches.

638 PAINTED MILITIA DRUM DECORATED WITH AN EAGLE, WITH ORIGINAL CARRYING STRAP. Painted with an eagle bearing a shield, clutching a brace of arrows and branches and beneath six stars, all in red, blue, mustard and cream on a blue ground and within a scalloped border, the sides grain-painted in red, blue and mustard, appears to retain its original bands, snares and top skin, as well as a linen hanging strap. Height 15 ½ inches, diameter 15 inches.

639 AMERICAN POLYCHROME PAINTED PINE MILITIA DRUM. Painted on the front with a displayed eagle bearing a shield and clutching arrows and branches, within a starburst border. Diameter 16 ¼ inches.

640 AMERICAN POLYCHROME PAINTED AND STENCILLED PINE MILITIA DRUM. Decorated on the front with a crowned shield with crossed swords above a skull and crossbones, inscribed “DERRYGALLY RANGERS,” within scrolling vines and tendrils on a gold ground, flanked on one side with four studded roundels. Diameter 16 inches.

641 PAINTED MILITIA SNARE DRUM DECORATED WITH AN EAGLE AND SHIELD, CIRCA 1820. The eagle painted with finely articulated feathers in cream, grasping a brace of arrows and a red, white and blue shield in its talons, beneath seventeen stars and a rayed red halo, all on a dark blue-green ground, the ivorylined percussion hole within brass nail decoration in geometric patterns, appears to retain its original red bands, skins, and roping. Height 16 inches, diameter 16 ½ inches. Literature: Discussed and illustrated in William Guthman, “American Militia Drums, 1775-1845,” THE MAGAZINE ANTIQUES, July 1982, p. 153, fig. 9.

642 PAINTED MILITIA DRUM DECORATED WITH AN EAGLE, PAINTED BY STEPHEN EMORY, RINDGE, NEW HAMPSHIRE, CIRCA 1830. Painted with an eagle bearing a shield, clutching a brace of arrows and branches and beneath fifteen stars, all in mustard, red and blue on a blue ground within a mustard and red sunburst border, the sides grained in red. Height 15 inches, diameter 16 ½ inches.

691 TWO PAINTED EAGLE-DECORATED CHILDREN’S DRUMS, EARLY NINETEENTH CENTURY. The first painted with an eagle bearing a shield, clutching an olive branch and arrows in its talons, a banner in its mouth inscribed “E PLURIBUS UNUM” beneath a blue sky with thirteen stars, the interior with the label of “FREDERICK LANE, #85 COURT ST, BOSTON,” height 12 inches, diameter 12 ½ inches; the second circa 1815, printed with an eagle beneath “E PLURIBUS UNUM” within a leafy wreath, the sides painted with orange, yellow, blue and green squiggles, height 10 ¾ inches, diameter 11 ½ inches. Exhibited: The Museum of Early American Folk Arts, New York, 1966.

704 PAINTED MILITIA “MAKE-DO” SNARE DRUM, CONVERTED INTO A STORAGE CONTAINER, CIRCA 1812. Painted with an eagle in flight, bearing a shield and clutching a brace of arrows and branches beneath fourteen stars, all in red, blue, green and gold on a blue ground within a red starburst border, the wood drum with traces of grain decoration. Height 14 ½ inches, diameter 15 ½ inches.

705 PAINTED TIN EAGLE-DECORATED “MAKE-DO” CIVIL WAR DRUM, PROBABLY FROM A GAR POST. Painted with an eagle soaring above a red, white and blue shield and holding a banner inscribed “PLURIBUS UNUM,” all on a blue ground, appears to retain the old hoops and ropes. Height 18 ½ inches, diameter 21 ¼ inches. Together with a snare drum painted around the percussion hole with a stylized floral device embellished with brass nails in a conforming pattern, the sides grained in red and black. Height 14 ½ inches, diameter 16 ¾ inches. (2)

716 ENGLISH PAINTED WOOD DRUM. Painted on the front with the crowned initial “GR” above “XXXIII” on a red ground, within red and ochre leather bands, bearing a paper label inscribed “HISTORIC REPRODUCTION/ of 18th Century British Military Drum belonging to the/ 33rd Regiment of Foot which Fought in the American Revolution.” Diameter 14 ½ inches.

717 PAINTED WOOD BASS DRUM DECORATED WITH AN EAGLE, CIRCA 1830. Painted with an eagle in mustard with black and red spots, clutching a red serpent spotted in black and yellow, above eleven stars and a swag painted to match the eagle, beneath seven stars flanking the initials “J.A.,” the percussion hole within the nail initials “IOI” flanked by vertical borders, the sides grained and within red sponged bands. Height 21 inches, diameter 25 inches.

See also: Northeast Auctions Fall 2006.

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