Tiffany windows sold by diocese fetch record price

March 17, 1991|By David Michael Ettlin

Tiffany stained-glass windows from the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland's vacated brownstone headquarters were sold for record prices yesterday at Christie's New York auction house.

After commissions, the diocese should receive close to $450,000 -- roughly double the amount that church officials had expected -- for a large, leaded glass ceiling and the triple-window panel from the landmark Diocesan House at 105 W. Monument St.

The triple panel, depicting flowering purple wisteria vines on a garden trellis, sold for $440,000, including the standard 10 percent buyer's premium, "a new record for any window at auction," according to Christie's senior vice president, Nancy McClelland.

Its worth had been estimated in the auction catalog at $100,000 to $150,000.

The price paid for the leaded glass ceiling, valued at $60,000 to $80,000, was $77,000.

"I'm not complaining. The bishop may, but I would be awfully surprised," said W. H. Holden Gibbs, the diocesan treasurer, who noted yesterday that the triple panel had been "in storage on the top floor, leaning against a wall gathering dust -- and had been since 1960."

Ms. McClelland said the previous record was $352,000 paid in 1989 for a double Tiffany peacock-and-wisteria window with a view of the Hudson River at Tarrytown, N.Y.

The diocesan windows and ceiling -- a skylight that had to be removed from its frame in the house -- were the top items in yesterday's auction of "Important 20th Century Decorative Arts."

"There was bidding all over the room -- both Japanese, private [dealers], everyone was bidding on them, and a lot of old collectors were participating," Ms. McClelland said, describing the interest that would-be buyers expressed in increments of $10,000.

But it was a telephone bidder -- Joseph A. Hardy of Pittsburgh, founder of the 380-store 84 Lumber business and one of the wealthiest people in the United States -- who prevailed, Christie's officials said.

Mr. Hardy, reached by telephone in Pennsylvania last night, said that he based his bids on photos and descriptions faxed to him by a friend in Baltimore who knew of his interest in Tiffany windows.

He was not aware, however, that his bid for the triple panel had set a record. "I thought I was going to be able to steal those things," he said with a laugh.

Mr. Hardy said the windows would be the focal point for a new ballroom at his Nemacolin Woodlands resort in Farmington, Pa.

Proceeds of the sale are destined for the church's Cross-Roads fund-raising campaign, which has fallen roughly $2 million behind its goal.

The diocese wants to raise a little more than $9 million by the end of this year for a variety of purposes, including the recently completed construction of a diocesan headquarters in North Baltimore that was covered in large part by borrowing.

One reason for the borrowing, church officials said, has been the failure to sell the Monument Street brownstone, purchased by the church in 1936 for $22,500. It has been on the market since 1989.

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