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Historically rich Steinway piano tops Bonhams Furniture and Decorative Arts Auction
A Louis XV style gilt bronze mounted grand piano. Sold for $266,500; Est. $60,000-80,000. Image: Courtesy of Bonhams.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA.- Bonhams announced its Fine European Furniture, Decorative Arts and Garden Ornaments auction, March 18 at Bonhams in San Francisco, achieved over $1.59 million. Hitting the highest note of the sale was a Louis XV style gilt bronze mounted grand piano from a Hillsborough, Calif., home, which sold for $266,500, far beyond its pre-sale estimate of $60,000-80,000.

The piano’s history generated great interest among bidders. It was made by Steinway in New York in 1924 and was shipped to the famous Paris firm of L. Alavoine et Compagnie, who commissioned the case marquetry and bronze mounts that took a year to complete. The piano is believed to have once been part of the furnishings of the Russian Embassy in Washington, DC. In 1938, Ralph Morrison, the owner of the St. Anthony Hotel in San Antonio, Texas, is said to have purchased the piano from the embassy for $27,000 and installed it in the hotel lobby where it remained until 1993. At that point, the piano was moved to a personal Hillsborough residence where it remained until being offered in this auction.

Jeffrey Smith, Vice President and Director of the Furniture and Decorative Arts Department at Bonhams, commented of the piano, “Not only is it a beautiful and magnificent, but it will be returning to San Antonio to be enjoyed by residents and tourists for generations. The interest in the piano generated bidding from four countries.”

Other notable and rare highlights were two very fine enamel portraits by British artist Henry Bone (1755–1834), RA. The first enamel, The Rainbow Portrait, dated May 1815, depicts Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603), and it sold for $128,500, ahead of an $8,000-12,000 estimate. The second enamel, dated April 1812, depicts Queen Elizabeth’s most important minister and adviser William Cecil, Lord Burghley (1520–1598). It sold for $47,500, against a $7,000-9,000 estimate. These portraits were from the estate of Mrs. T. Charlton Henry (1886-1978) of Philadelphia. Mrs. T. Carlton Henry was the former Julia Rush Biddle of the famous Philadelphia Biddles. She was a Grande Dame, immortalized by the photographer Diane Arbus (1923–1971) in several iconic portraits.

Of special San Francisco historical note in the auction was an offering of a rare San Francisco silver, gold and gold quartz presentation piece made for The Crown Point Gold and Silver Mining Company by Koehler & Ritter (1867-1884) of San Francisco, which sold for $27,500, ahead of a $5,000-7,000 estimate. The Crown Point Mine was part of the legendary Comstock Lode and was from the extensive collection of Joseph Klein (1899-1987) of New York.

Other superb highlights included a 19th century Italian marble group of five young musicians sold for $28,750 - past an estimate of $12,000-18,000; a mid-19th century Italian, Baroque Revival micro mosaic walnut gueridon, sold for $35,000 - beyond an estimate of $12,000-18,000; and a third-quarter 18th century, Louis XV gilt bronze mounted and parquetry commode, from the Ronald F. Antonioli Collection, San Francisco, sold for $27,500.

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Historically rich Steinway piano tops Bonhams Furniture and Decorative Arts Auction

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