Follow the Stories | Providence, Rhode Island (2006)
Bellamy Eagles: When Values Soar
This eagle was created by master carver John Bellamy, who did not consider himself an artist. His eagles are known for their long necks, square beaks and round, red eyes.
At the time Allan Katz saw the eagle wall plaque in Providence, it was worth between $35,000 and $45,000, but no more.
A typewritten note taped to the back of the plaque reads, "This is an original Bellamy Eagle. Carved in Kittery, Maine, about 80 years ago. (Jan. 25, 1960) Est. Val. $250. ..."
This larger Bellamy eagle sold for the huge sum of $660,000 at the same auction in August 2005.
In June 2005, ANTIQUES ROADSHOW appraiser Allan Katz was at the Folk Art table in Providence, Rhode Island, when a woman showed up with a 26-inch-long wall plaque of an eagle, by the noted New England carver John Haley Bellamy. He worked in the late 1800s in his hometown of Kittery, Maine, and then in other New England towns, earning his living primarily by carving eagles for sailing ships and for the home. Although Bellamy never signed his carvings — he didn't consider himself an artist — his vibrant and stylized painted eagles, often accompanied by adages like "Remember the Maine," distinguish his work from all others.
Katz, a folk art dealer, had sold four very similar Bellamy carvings during his 25 years in the business, and had no difficulty valuing this one at $35,000 to $45,000, a conservative estimate. But a year later, when his over-the-shoulder appraisal from Providence aired on ANTIQUES ROADSHOW, Katz said the value of the piece had flown above the $100,000 mark and may be worth as much as $160,000. So what happened?
In 2005 this carved eagle plaque was appraised for roughly $40,000. Now it's probably worth over $100,000. What happened?
"This is a nice lesson in how markets move," says Katz, who with his wife Penny, owns Allan Katz Americana in Woodbridge, Connecticut. "Objects don't appreciate eight and a half percent a month. Something happens that makes the price go straight up." What happened in this case is that a handful of Bellamy plaques nearly identical to the one that Katz saw were auctioned off at extremely high prices in the year between the taping of the Providence show and its airing. In August 2005, one such Bellamy plaque, valued between $35,000 and $55,000, sold at Northeast Auctions in New Hampshire for an astounding $145,000. At the same auction, a far larger and more intricately carved Bellamy eagle, valued at between $90,000 and $120,000, sold for a record-shattering $600,000. These values came just two months after Katz's appraisal, and were followed by a sale of another at Maine's Thomaston Place Auction Galleries for $101,000 in November, and a second, with paint that was a bit brighter, which sold for $154,000 in April 2006.
"The appraisals I gave last June were accurate," Katz said, "but they became inaccurate after these other pieces came to the marketplace." But why did they appreciate so much from 2005 to 2006? Katz thinks it has to do with the mounting interest in folk art in general, and the decreasing supply, trends that also apply to Bellamy's eagles. While they are not unusually rare — a few of the 26-inch eagles come on the market each year — they're not common either. With their square beaks and long necks, his eagles have become iconic, and are sought after by today's serious folk art collectors. Besides, he says, "Bellamys don't grow on trees."
Katz points out that jagged jumps in value, preceded and followed by plateaus, are a phenomenon repeated in nearly all investments, whether antiques and collectibles, or stocks and diamonds. Sudden rises in value are especially true in the collecting field, he says, when more than one of the same piece exists, as is the case for the 26-inch eagles, which were a bread-and-butter carving for Bellamy. If one bidder pays more for one, everybody suddenly seems willing to pay more for the others that follow him into the market. This happened the last time these Bellamy eagle wall plaques spiked. Until about 15 years ago, they were consistently sold for between $8,500 and $12,500. "Then they suddenly stepped up to the $25,000 to $50,000 range," Katz says.
But might bidders have paid too much for these Bellamy eagles? Only time will tell. The price could stay flat, or even drop precipitously, which could happen if everyone who has a 26-inch Bellamy eagle decides that now would be a favorable time to sell. But there's no guarantee that will happen. "It could be like Manhattan real estate," Katz says. "You think it can't go any higher, and then values jump another 25 percent."
See the Providence, Rhode Island (2006) page for a list of all appraisals from this city.
Dennis Gaffney is a freelance writer in Albany, New York. He has been a contributor to Antiques Roadshow Online since 1998.