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The Collection of Bruce and Vivalyn Knight

Published in Maine Antique Digest – April 2024

By Don Johnson

Photos courtesy Amelia Jeffers Auctioneer & Appraiser

Amelia Jeffers Auctioneer & Appraiser, Delaware, Ohio

More than 800 lots from the collection of Bruce and Vivalyn Knight of Springfield, Ohio, sold for $1.15 million during an auction conducted by Amelia Jeffers Auctioneer & Appraiser January 5 and 6 at Delaware, Ohio.

Jeffers promoted the material as “One of the most significant collections to sell at the Garth’s Auction Barn in many years.” Featuring a broad mix of Americana, decorative art, fine art, and folk art, the auction had only a handful of items that went unsold.

Bruce, who died in 2021, was a U.S. Army veteran who served a year in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive. He was also an industrial engineer and personnel manager for International Harvester. However, it was his passion for antiques where business and pleasure mixed. For 30 years he ran Knight’s Antiques in Springfield, Ohio. He also founded the Springfield Antique Show & Flea Market, as well as Heart of Ohio Antique Center.

Carved and painted cigar-store Indian attributed to Samuel Robb (1851-1928), the female figure wearing a dress with a feather belt and holding tobacco leaves in one hand while cradling cigars in the other arm and holding a yellow rose in that hand, 80" high x 26" wide x 22" deep, old paint flaking that reveals original colors underneath, wear and age splits, cork in the head for adding water in order to prevent shrinkage, the figure attached to a canted base, $60,000 (est. $20,000/35,000).

Vivalyn, who survives, married into the business; it was a good fit. “She and Bruce were peers,” said Jeffers. “She is definitely a sophisticated business person.”

As major importers of antiques, the Knights traveled to five continents. The couple’s collection was put together with a mix of American and international objects, indicating that an item’s worth was valued beyond the single criterion of where it originated.

The top lot of the auction was a cigar-store Indian attributed to Samuel Robb (1851-1928) that sold for $60,000 (including buyer’s premium) against an estimate of $20,000/35,000. Robb, whose workshop became the largest in New York City during the 19th century, is best known for figures that promoted tobacco shops. The example offered from the Knight collection was of a Native American woman wearing a dress and holding cigars, tobacco leaves, and a rose. In old paint and measuring 80" high, it had previously been owned by Ohio antiques dealer Jane Murphy.

Carved and painted cigar-store Indian, the hardwood male figure wearing a tunic with a sash and fringed leggings and holding cigars in one hand and tobacco leaves in the other, second half of the 19th century, 75" high x 22" wide x 22" deep overall, old paint flaking that reveals original colors underneath, wear, age splits, cork in the head for adding water in order to prevent shrinkage, the figure attached to a canted base, $45,600 (est. $25,000/40,000).

A second cigar-store Indian realized $45,600 (est. $25,000/40,000). Dating to the second half of the 19th century, it featured a man dressed in a tunic with a sash and fringed leggings and holding cigars and tobacco leaves. In old paint, it stood 75" high and was ex-Olde Hope Antiques of Pennsylvania.

Native American inlaid trade ax pipe reputedly having belonged to Tecumseh, the forged iron head with brass and German silver inlay, a tiger maple handle, North American, probably 18th century, 18½" long overall, the handle with old refinishing, $49,200 (est. $2500/3500). Bruce Knight originally purchased the ax pipe out of a home in Springfield, Ohio. In its infancy, the settlement in Springfield was the site of an 1807 council meeting between local militia and rival Shawnee factions intent on proving they were not involved in the killing and scalping of a white settler. John Sugden’s biography of the Shawnee chief, Tecumseh: A Life, recounts the story of a “silver-mounted tomahawk-pipe” being surrendered by him at that meeting.

Folk art drew strong interest throughout the sale, but the variety went much deeper than a single category. It included a Native American inlaid trade ax pipe at $49,200 (est. $2500/3500) and an inlaid tall-case clock at $30,000 (est. $20,000/30,000).

The ax pipe was said to have belonged to Tecumseh. “That’s a piece that, at the end of the day, there’s a lot of discussion of the provenance,” said Jeffers. “Clearly if we had a rock-solid provenance as to not be speculative, it’s a $750,000 thing.”

What mattered beyond the he-said-she-said of it all was that the piece stood firmly on its own, regardless of its history. Believed to date to the 18th century, the ax pipe had a forged iron head with German silver and brass inlay, mounted on a tiger maple handle having old refinishing. Bruce acquired the trade ax from a home in Springfield, Ohio, and then sold it to dealer Clark Garrett. It was resold through Mike Clum’s auction of items from Garrett’s estate in 2002 for $39,600 and landed in the Knight collection again.

Pennsylvania tall-case clock in walnut, figured walnut, and tiger maple, the broken-arch pediment with rosettes and a central tulip finial, the painted steel face with a moon dial, having brass works, weights, and pendulum, the shell-carved door with a mirror, inlaid with a tulip and the letters “IS,” dated 1806, resting on ogee feet, 93" high x 20¾" wide x 11" deep, some wear to the original finish, missing two bonnet finials, a quarter column, and a substantial portion of the scalloped trim around the top of the base, repair to a foot, possible height loss, $30,000 (est. $20,000/30,000).

The tall-case clock was of Pennsylvania origin and dated 1806. In walnut, figured walnut, and tiger maple, it had a bonnet with a broken-arch pediment with rosettes that flanked a carved tulip finial. The floral motif continued on the case door, which had a shell-carved crest, inlaid tulip, initials “IS,” and the date, as well as a mirror and fluted bottom. The face was painted steel with a moon dial and brass works. The clock stood 93" high x 20¾" wide and was ex-Dard Hunter of Ohio.

“I love that clock. It was one of my favorite things in the auction. Hands down, it was Viv’s favorite thing,” said Jeffers. The tulip decorations were everything. “It might go down for me as a favorite element on a piece of furniture, the carved tulip.”

Stepback cupboard by Christian Shiveley Jr. (1770-1836), cherry, the molded-cornice top with two glazed doors flanking a glazed panel, the base with four drawers and two raised-panel doors, on ogee bracket feet, the top section keyed to the bottom, Montgomery County, Ohio, late 18th or early 19th century, 95½" high x 68¼" wide x 22" deep, refinished, replaced hardware, age splits and repairs, portions of the feet replaced, $27,600 (est. $30,000/50,000).

The best of the furniture was a stepback cupboard by Christian Shively Jr., Montgomery County, Ohio, that sold for $27,600 (est. $30,000/50,000). From the late 18th or early 19th century, the two-piece cupboard was made of cherry and measured 95½" high x 68¼" wide.

Size made the cupboard impressive, but at a smidge under 8' tall, size also made the piece a hard sell for use in many homes. “I joked when I opened the bidding on it. I said maybe I should sell it by the inch,” said Jeffers. “Those are tough. If you wanted to talk about every negative: brown furniture, huge, regional.... You narrow the audience; you lower the price.”

In the end, none of that mattered. The Shively cupboard not only led bidding for all furniture, but it also set the tone for case pieces. Brown furniture outpaced painted examples throughout the sale, as was the case when Jeffers held an antiques auction on Thanksgiving weekend.

Oil on canvas painting of prize Shropshire sheep in a pasture, by English artist Richard Whitford (c. 1821-1890), signed and dated 1863, inscribed “1st Prize & Silver Medal / London Xmas, 1862,” 25" x 30" plus gilt frame (not shown), London preparer’s label, light crazing, yellowed varnish, a few minor surface scuffs, $17,500 (est. $8000/12,000).

Artwork was led by a painting by Richard Whitford (English, c. 1821-1890) of three Shropshire sheep in a pasture, 25" x 30", that sold for $17,500 (est. $8000/12,000). Oil on canvas, the work was signed and dated 1863 and was inscribed “1st Prize & Silver Medal / London Xmas, 1862.” The painting was pictured in Two Hundred Years of British Farm Livestock by Steven J. G. Hall and Juliet Clutton-Brock (1989).

Unsigned painting of a seated calico cat near a bowl, most likely English based on the framer’s label on the reverse, late 19th century, 26" x 21", the work on paper glued down on the front and back to mat board, some loss to the front border where the mat board was lifted but no damage to the painting itself, varnished, distressed crazing, $2160 (est. $300/500).

Also drawing a strong response was a naive painting of a calico cat sitting next to a dish. Dating to the late 19th century, the image was a work on paper glued to mat board. A framer’s label on the reverse suggested the artist was English. The painting sold for $2160 (est. $300/500). From artwork to carvings, felines were in demand throughout the auction. “Everything cat-related,” said Jeffers. “It seems like if it had a cat on it, add a zero or two.”

Salt-glazed stoneware Bellarmine jug with an applied handle, the neck with a molded bearded face and the body with armorial medallions, German, 18th century, 14½" high, a few edge flakes, some stains and surface wear, $7812 (est. $800/1600).

The international aspect of the Knight collection coincided with the couple’s interest in traveling. Among the top lots sold were a Chinese jade belt buckle, probably late 19th century, in pale gray/green with carved dragons, 5½" long, at $6875 (est. $300/600); a German stoneware Bellarmine jug, 18th century, having a relief face as well as armorial medallions, 14½" high, $7812 (est. $800/1600); an English mocha cider pitcher, first quarter of the 19th century, decorated with open tulips in blue and sage green on a rust band, $7500 (est. $1500/3500); and an English silver tankard, with London 1743 hallmarks, tulip shaped with a scroll handle, engraved with a name and town, 9" high, $7500 (est. $900/1200).

Overall, the auction had the effect expected, drawing a standing-room-only crowd to The Barn at Stratford, Garth’s old home. “It brought some pretty serious buyers out of retirement,” said Jeffers. “The dealers who were buying for their own collections were successful. It was a tough sale to buy if you were trying to [re]sell.”

Room bidding accounted for a fair amount of the sales, including the two cigar-store Indians. “A lot of high-end, major stuff sold right in the actual room.” There were about 600 in-person, absentee, or phone bidders, supplemented by roughly 3500 online bidders competing for 872 lots. “All but six objects sold through. No reserves. How often does anybody sell a million [dollars] plus at auction with no reserve?”

For more information, phone Jeffers at (740) 815-7016 or visit (

Flintlock rifle, the tiger maple full stock having a checkered wrist, the octagonal barrel marked “JD,” cast-brass butt plate and trigger guard, engraved silver and brass inlays including a shield-breasted eagle, moons, and stars, first half of the 19th century, 53½" long, refinished, the barrel polished and with some wear and pitting, the trigger and lock mechanism in working order, $7800 (est. $1000/2000).
Hand-drawn broadside with advertisements for businesses in Vienna Crossroads, Ohio, including a blacksmith, a general store, physicians, and the Vienna Hotel, graphite and colored pencil on paper, first quarter of the 20th century, 23" x 25", framed, toning and edge loss, $1920 (est. $1000/2000). The broadside also features a humorous drawing of a man riding a mule along railroad tracks, with the animal’s tail attached to an overhead electrical line. The vignette promoted the Columbus, London & Springfield interurban railway line.
Mocha cider pitcher with a molded leaf handle, blue bands flanking a central rust-colored band with dotted tulips in blue and sage green, English, first quarter of the 19th century, 6¾" high, minor rim wear, $7500 (est. $1500/3500).
Bentwood bandbox in poplar, the wallpaper exterior featuring squirrels on a blue ground, second quarter of the 19th century, 11¼" x 18", some paper loss mainly to the lid, $2280 (est. $400/800).
Silver tankard engraved “Freeman Higgins / Eastham,” the tulip-shaped body with a scrolled handle and open thumbpiece, having London 1743 hallmarks, the maker’s mark possibly RTG, 9" high, a few minor dents, $7500 (est. $900/1200).
Seated redware squirrel with incised details, the folky rodent in a mottled green glaze accented with white and brown, second half of the 19th century, 6¼" high, glaze flakes on the tops of the ears, minor surface wear and edge wear, $2040 (est. $250/450).
Ten-gallon ovoid stoneware crock with incised and cobalt-decorated tulips, mid-19th century, 20" high, $4625 (est. $1000/3000).
Hand-drawn and painted fraktur on paper featuring parrots and an urn of flowers, commemorating the 1826 birth of Mary Ann Henderson, 7¾" x 9¾", framed, toning and light stains, $2640 (est. $600/900).
Queen Anne high chest in tiger maple, the flat top with a molded cornice, the base with a shell-carved drawer and shaped apron, New England, mid-18th century, 70½" high x 40½" wide x 22¼" deep, old if not original surface, shrinkage, age splits on the ends, replaced brasses, missing drop finials on the base, $9062 (est. $10,000/20,000).
Footed treenware jar with a turned lid, layers of old blue paint, second half of the 19th century, 4" high x 3¼" diameter, minor edge flakes, $3250 (est. $350/700).
Carved and painted hardwood folk-art bust of a woman wearing a bonnet, first half of the 19th century, 10" high, original paint, wear, age split, $4800 (est. $200/400).
Child-size Sheraton bonnet chest in figured cherry, with two bonnet drawers and inverted beehive-turned legs, probably made by Matthew Patton, Montgomery County, Ohio, second quarter of the 19th century, 27¼" high x 27½" wide x 12¼" deep, refinished, losses to beaded edges, one glass knob replaced, $8160 (est. $1500/2500). The chest is stamped “J. C. Athey / Jan 22 29” and “1802” and has penciled notations “Made 1802” and other information regarding possession.


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