Issue #107  7/10/2006
Sheeler Barn Goes For Nearly $100,000 On Ebay Live Auction to American Dealer

EBay Live Auctions got some unexpected action when a lot by Charles Sheeler, which was estimated at a meager $500-$1,000, sold for $95,000 to a floor bidder at the auction. The auctioneer, Grogan & Company of Dedham, MA, had clearly underestimated the item, which was Sheeler's famed 1918 modernist piece "Side of White Barn, Bucks County, PA". The provenance was originally from Agnes Ernst Meyer.

The lot only reached $1,700 from an online bidder, but those at the auction itself drove the bidding upward, well beyond this. I can report that the item was bought by an American dealer. Some sources estimate that the piece might bring as much as $800,000 in today's overheated market. In the mid-1990s, a similar piece was sold by Boston dealer and AIPAD President Robert Klein to New York photography dealer Peter MacGill, who in turn resold it to a collector, who bought it reportedly at the urging of Sandra Phillips, curator at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The ultimate price at that time was reportedly in mid-six figure territory.

Except for a minor "¼ inch bite out of the top right corner-not in image", as the auctioneer described it, the print is reportedly flawless. It was reported to be signed, titled and dated by the photographer. The image is considered to be one of the great and influential early 20th-century modernist works.

Interestingly enough, the sale drove out another print of White Barn on to eBay (ID # 110004458304). The seller has an interesting rationale for the dating of the image, which he attributed to Sotheby's. He claims that because it didn't glow under black light Sotheby's felt that it was a print made prior to the 1951 prints made by the New York Museum of Modern Art.

First of all, according to Paul Messier and other conservators, photography papers did not get brighteners added until 1953, and, secondly, the absence of brighteners certainly does not mean a print is before that period. Plenty of photo papers that have been made after that time will not fluoresce under black light--many even made today will not glow.

This latter print, which is currently being offered by an estate dealer from Bedford Hills, New York, also has a "shine" to it and is a bit washed out. Most Sheeler prints from this period have a matte finish. The seller has offered to show it to any interested parties and has a decent eBay track record.