The most expensive item in a collection of early needlework at Bonhams Skinner, an elaborate silk embroidered picture dated to the 17th century – $28,000 (£23,335).

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Despite the title, not everything in the Americana live auction held by Bonhams Skinner (25/20/12% buyer’s premium) on August 13 was of American origin.

The content ranged further afield including pieces of Chinese export silverware and trade paintings and, from the other side of the Atlantic, a collection of early needlework.

Around 40 examples of embroidery had come from the estate of a New York antiquarian, the majority of them of English origin and dating from the 17th and early 18th centuries.

Variously worked in colourful silks and metal threads with a variety of different biblical, mythological or secular subjects, these pieces combine skilled workmanship and strong decorative appeal and a number were pursued to levels substantially past their estimates.

Busy landscape

The most expensive was a silk needlework panel dated to the 17th century. Set in a moulded and ebonised frame measuring 17¼ x 20¼in (44 x 51cm), it was elaborately worked with a landscape featuring a man wielding a club and various animals including a boar and dogs, lions attacking a cow and horse and two griffins, all set within a meandering floral border. It proved particularly sought after with bidding sailing to $28,000 (£23,335), well above the $4000-6000 guide.

Not far behind at $27,000 (£22,500), and way past the guide of $800-1200, was an unfinished embroidered linen panel catalogued as English c.1700 and measuring 18 x 23in (46 x 58cm). This was worked to the corners with subjects emblematic of the four continents.


An unfinished English linen panel from c.1700 worked with four continents scenes – $27,000 (£22,500) at Bonhams Skinner.

Another in-demand piece was a 14¾x 13in (36 x 33cm) period framed needlework picture ascribed to England, late 17th/early 18th century, featuring a man holding a staff and a woman carrying a basket with a dog in a landscape setting which realised $7000 (£5835) against a $1000-1500 guide.

The same price was paid for a silk embroidered beaded and stumpwork floral panel measuring 17 x 18in (43 x 46cm) and dated to the 17th century. Finely worked with stumpwork berries, birds and hearts, it had some condition issues and losses and was detached from the underlying embroidered panel. Nonetheless, it outpaced the $2000-4000 guide.


A late 17th century panel worked with the Sacrifice of Isaac – $4750 (£3960) at Bonhams Skinner.

Among the embroideries with biblical subjects were several featuring the Sacrifice of Isaac. The most expensive was a 9¾in (25cm) square example ascribed to England c.1680 showing Abraham and Isaac both in red and white striped costumes. It has some minor losses to the embroideries but more than doubled its guide to take $4750 (£3960).

The top lot of the auction was a maritime item relating to the early history of American yachting. Cleopatra’s Barge On A voyage of Pleasure was an illustrated manuscript journal documenting the maiden voyage in 1817 of George Crowninshield’s yacht. Crowninshield (1766-1817) commissioned the barge from the Salem, Massachusetts, ship builder Retire Becket in the spring of 1816 and it is thought to be the earliest pleasure yacht made in the US.


Illustrated manuscript account of the maiden voyage of George Crowninshield’s yacht Cleopatra’s Barge – $80,000 (£66,660) at Bonhams Skinner.

The manuscript, volume 1, bound in red Morocco, contains a narrative of the trip and 22 watercolour, pen and ink and pencil drawings of the harbours and towns around the world that Crowninshield encountered en route. It was offered together with a privately printed transcript of the journal from 1913 and Crowninshield’s letter book.

Estimated at $75,000-100,000, it sold for $80,000 (£66,660).

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