Condition Trumps Rarity at Treadway-Toomey Sale

Collectors of American Arts and Crafts furniture demonstrated their high regard for pieces in excellent, original condition at the Treadway-Toomey 20th Century Arts and Design auction in Oak Park, Illinois, this past Saturday.

Early in the sale a Harvey Ellis-Gustav Stickley dropfront desk with iron strap hinges and a dramatic arched toe board, the form considered an iconic collaboration of these two important designers, arrived with a conservative presale estimate of $20,000-$25,000. This form has previously topped $100,000 at auction, but this example had new shelves and a new fitted interior compartment, causing collectors to shy away once the bidding hit $18,000.

A little later in the sale, a rare Limbert flat-topped desk, reported to have possibly been the personal desk of Charles Limbert, came with a badly damaged leather top and some restoration. Estimated at $6000-$8000, neither the undocumented provenance nor the desk itself could excite anyone beyond the final bid of $4750.

Art pottery collectors pushed desirable pieces of Rookwood and Newcomb pottery to respectable levels, but proved uninterested in a large selection of copper-clad Clewell pottery brought to the sale. Midwest favorite Teco Pottery always seems to sell well at John Toomey’s Oak Park gallery and Saturday’s largest pieces generated some spirited bidding. A large Teco jardinière (#86) designed by W. J. Dodd (est. $10,000-$15,000) finished at $10,000, plus the buyer’s commission, and a Fritz Albert designed Teco vase (#313) shaped like a 14″ ear of green-glazed corn (pictured) with the same estimate ran all the way to a final bid of $20,000.

Gustav Stickley, L. & J. G. Stickley, Limbert and Roycroft furniture performed well, with only a few passed lots. One lot which received little fanfare was an early, unsigned Gustav Stickley writing table (#417) reflecting his short-lived Gothic design influence. Considered extremely rare and being in excellent condition and retaining its original finish and leather top, the writing table had a presale estimate of $30,000-$40,000. But the bidding stalled at $22,000, sending the piece back to a disappointed consignor.

And sometimes there are those pieces you just can’t understand what happened to.

In this case it was the classic, flat-armed Gustav Stickley Morris chair, model #332, another iconic form that symbolizes the intent of Arts and Crafts furniture designers. This chair seemed to have it all: great form, original finish, signed twice, original leather cushions, desirable 1905 time period, excellent condition, and a provenance that included being selected for a major 1994 museum exhibition. Its $9,000-$12,000 presale estimate seemed conservative, given the fact that the same form in the same condition, but without any exhibition credits, has previously sold in the $15,000-$20,000 range. On this day, however, one astute Gustav Stickley collector came away with a museum-quality form for a final bid of $8000.

For a complete listing of the final sales results, go to