Sweet Dreams

A historic bed finally comes back to Maryland, but not before a spirited auction battle. The $98,000 price tag is one the folks at Hapton House won't lose any sleep over.

May 11, 2002|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,SUN STAFF

Knocked apart and resting on a shipping pad in a garret at the Hampton mansion, the $98,500 bed looks like something you might find in your grandma's attic.

But the 200-year-old mahogany glows with a deep, dark warmth and the extraordinary carved posts make the bed "a masterpiece of Baltimore cabinetmaking," says Lynne Dakin Hastings, the curator at Hampton National Historic Site.

Hastings bought the bed at a January sale in New York that Sotheby's called "the most important collection of Americana ever to come to auction."

Reassembled but undressed, so to speak, the bed will be on display from Monday afternoon until May 24 in the Great Hall at Hampton, off Dulaney Valley Road in Towson.

Reappearing fully dressed with specially worked French tambour bed hangings in the Master Bedchamber later this year, it will be a bed fit for the lord of the manor.

Which it was, long ago.

Charles Carnan Ridgely, the richest man ever elected governor of Maryland, reigned as master of Hampton when the bed was bought the first time. Hastings says bills show the Ridgely family bought several, large well-ornamented beds between 1785 and 1805.

Governor Ridgely and his wife, Priscilla, must have spent considerable time in the old bed - after all, they had 14 children.

"He may have died in it," Hastings says. "Or she may have died in it. There was birth, death, love, marriage. Brides may have spent their wedding night in it. A wonderful intimate part of the Ridgely family story is tied up in the beds."

This particular bed remained in the Ridgely family until 1957, when it was sold to Joe Kindig, an antiques dealer in York, Pa.

When the bed came up for sale at Sotheby's, Hastings scored like a rookie swatting a home run in his first time at bat in the major leagues. At her first major auction, she outbid Leigh Keno, one of the stardust twins of the PBS series Antiques Roadshow and an expert on early American furniture.

"This particular sale was entirely the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Lammot Copeland," Hastings says.

That's Lammot du Pont Copeland, of course. Copeland, who died in 1983, was the great-great-grandson of the founder of du Pont and the company's 11th CEO. His widow, Pamela, who died last year, had a deep interest in horticulture as well as historic preservation. The $12 million sale of their collection benefited the Mount Cuba Center for the Study of Piedmont Flora at their estate in Delaware.

The Copelands "used this magnificent bed in their bedroom," Hastings says. "They slept in it. For a very long time, almost 50 years."

She had gotten a tip from a curator at Winterthur, another du Pont estate, that paperwork indicated that the bed the Copelands slept on at Mount Cuba came from Hampton.

"It was a receipt that the Copelands had bought the bed from Joe Kindig," she says. "Joe Kindig was a very prominent antiques dealer who bought a lot of things out of Hampton."

"That's what really saved the [Ridgely] family in the early 20th century and the '30s and '40s," Hastings says. "When they really had no money and they really needed to hold the household together, they started selling things off."

Hastings researched the bed's provenance, which was easy since it really had only two owners, three if you include Kindig. She went to New York a couple days before the sale and asked Sotheby's to take the bed apart so she could make sure nobody had replaced a post or done something equally untoward.

Original has value

"The fact that it was all original meant a lot to us," she says. Because "this house [is] part of the National Park Service, it's important to us that almost everything inside it is original. One of the key pieces in the house, one of the very few pieces that wasn't original, was the bed in the master bedroom.

"So this was a very important purchase for us. A significant piece was going to be returned to the house and become part of a national park, which means it's in the public venue, in perpetuity."

Unfortunately, she says, the National Park Service can't afford to spend $98,500 on a bed.

"We realized it would have to be entirely private money that was raised to buy the bed. So our `friends group' really came to the fore."

That's Historic Hampton Inc.

"Stiles Colwill, who is the chairman of my furnishing committee, is really the person who made everything happen," she says. Colwill is an interior designer and decorative arts consultant and vice chairman of Historic Hampton.

The two got a skybox for the auction and went to Sotheby's planning to bid no more than $50,000 for the bed.

"Then Stiles said, `We're going down on the floor. We want everyone to know Hampton's doing the bidding,'" Hastings says.

Colwill insisted she do the bidding.

"I said, `I've never held the paddle at a big Sotheby's auction before. I don't want to do that. I'm going to be too nervous.' He said, `You're going to do it.'"

Sotheby's estimated the bed would bring $20,000 to $30,000.

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