|By Eric C. Rodenberg
SCENERY HILL, Pa. – Living within the bucolic hills of the Pennsylvania Highlands, antique dealer and show promoter Peter Chillingworth has been both a student and champion of the industry for nearly 60 years.
On Oct. 18-20, Chillingworth and his wife, Kathryn (Cappy) will be selling the contents of Peter Chillingworth Antiques and their own private collection at an onsite auction at their historic 1859 farmhouse in southwestern Pennsylvania.
More than 1,300 lots will be sold in three days. Most of the antiques being sold have their origin within a 100-mile radius of Washington County, Pa., an area that brims with history.
The Old National Road (U.S. 40), passes within mere feet from the Chillingworth auction site. Not far away, in 1791, the Whiskey Rebellion flared up in protest of President Washington’s administration efforts to impose the first tax on a domestic product, intended to generate revenue for the war debt incurred during the Revolutionary War.
Along this portion of the Old National Road, on Sept. 11, 1791, a recently appointed tax collector was tarred and feathered by a disguised gang from Washington County. Another man, sent by officials to serve court warrants on the tax collector’s attackers, met a similar fate. As result, the tax went uncollected in 1791 and early 1792.
Chillingworth, as most good antique dealers, loves to talk local history. His collection includes an assortment of Americana, including furniture and decorative arts from the Queen Anne, Chippendale and Federal periods. His collection also includes a large collection of 19th and early 20th century handtools, including a period-manufactured treadle lathe, early molding planes, workbenches and period lumber.
The 83-year-old Chillingworth is holding nothing back in the auction. “When you sell out, you might as well sell out everything,” he says. “People appreciate that. There will be no additions, no reservations. I am selling everything.”
There are several highlights of the three-day sale. Top choices include:
•A William Coventry Wall (American/Pennsylvania, 1810-1886) landscape oil on canvas, signed and dated 1852. Framed in a laurel leaf-molded frame with gilt paint, at 36-inches high and 46-inches wide, is estimated at $15,000-$25,000.
•An Aaron Henry Gorson (Lithuanian/American, 1872-1933), oil on canvas scene of the Pittsburgh steel mill in the winter. The painting, measuring 10 ½ inches by 13 ½ inches is estimated at $10,000-$20,000.
•A Pennsylvania tall case clock, signed by Alexander Cook, a Scottish-born clockmaker who worked in Harvard County, Maryland in 1790. Cook, who later became a Missionary, made clocks for only two years, working from Canonsburg, Pa. Measuring 93-inches tall, and one of only two extant, the clock is estimated at $15,000-$25,000.
The Chillingworths sought out veteran auctioneer Amelia Jeffers as the lead auctioneer in the sale. She will be assisted by auctioneers Jim Frio and Shane Stack from West Virginia.
Jeffers auspicious return to the auction arena comes a year after having left Garth’s Auctioneers and Appraisals of Delaware, Ohio, a company she co-owned and helped manage for 20 years.
“Amelia was always our choice for this sale,” Chillingworth said. “She exactly fit our criteria. We have been friends at least for 20 years. Amelia and I have established a rapport; we have so much in common. We both went to West Virginia University, we both love antiques and we just have a lot in common.
“She’s a fast seller, and she knows how to stage an auction. I think people see that she is honest, sincere and people can easily relate to her.”
For her part, Jeffers says she “has no grand plan” in making her return to the auction ring. She cites her admiration for Chillingworth as an “icon in the Americana world as a dealer.”
“Peter has been a student and a champion, not only for antiques and collectors in general, but for preserving and respecting historic and decorative objects of western Pennsylvania. From vine-inlaid furniture to silver, glass and artwork, it just made no sense to pull these objects out of their native region.
“What I want to do is represent Peter as well as I can. I think many of the bigger auction houses with their slick catalogs, and company names and logos … so much of it has become about the auction houses. But, this sale is branded to Peter Chillingworth. I think it’s time to make the auctions more about the collector.”
Chillingworth has served as show manager of many longstanding shows, including two that he will continue to manage: the Brandywine River Museum of Art Antiques Show in Chadds Ford, Pa., and the Oglebay Institute’s annual Antiques Show and Sale in Wheeling, W.Va.
Chillingworth came to the antiques business naturally. “I had a great interest in antiques from a young age thanks to my mother. I started out portering for her in my teens when she managed a much-loved antique show held for years at the Episcopalian church in Indiana, Pa.
“When I got out of school, and in an effort to seek approval from my future father-in-law, I took a job at J.C. Penney in management. I lasted about 18 months before I decided I did not want to retire as a J.C. Penney associate. So, with my wife’s permission, and because she had steady income as a schoolteacher, I left Penney’s and opened an antique shop on March 15, 1961. And it has been open ever since.”
Chillingworth said he will be buying and selling on “a limited pace” forever. “If I see an antique that is just so good and juicy, you bet I’m going to jump on it,” he said. “I’m never going to be able to do without antiques.”
Contact: (740) 815-7016