Local George Washington portrait to be auctioned

Despite its close proximity to campus, Cottone Auctions - which was recently featured in the Democrat and Chronicle after obtaining an original portrait of George Washington from the 19th century - remains unknown to many Geneseo students.

Sam Cottone founded the auction house, which is located in the plaza at the bottom of Court Street near Rt. 63. "I started [the business] in 1979, and in 1986 we started doing antique and art auctions … little by little, we built our business from there," Cottone said. Today, he runs the auction house with his son Matt, three full-time employees and a handful of part-timers.

The auctions at Cottone usually feature a wide array of one-of-a-kind items from all over the country and even overseas, including fine art, Tiffany lamps, oriental rugs, antique clocks and silver. "We sold a great painting for the Wadsworth family here about two or three years ago … for a million dollars," Cottone said. "That's one you don't forget; it was pretty exciting."

Cottone said that when customers are looking to sell something or have it appraised, they usually find him through word of mouth because the auction house may have sold something similar to what they're interested in selling. That was how Oliver Chanler, the owner of the Washington portrait, found Cottone.

"[Chanler] contacted us and was considering selling some artwork and some different things and wanted to know what our opinion would be and how we would go about selling it," Cottone explained.

According to the Democrat and Chronicle, Chanler said he didn't know of the value of the painting before he contacted Cottone. "I thought it was probably a copy and that there were probably lots of them," he said. "But it wasn't a copy. It was the real thing."

Cottone said several factors tipped him off to the art's authenticity. Famous American portraitist Gilbert Stuart is the artist behind the painting, which dates back to around 1803. Cottone explained that Stuart "rarely signed anything and this [painting] is unsigned," and also that the portrait "has a great pedigree."

Chanler's ancestors trace their history back to the family of John Jacob Astor, the first multi-millionaire in the United States. "The painting originally came up from New York to where Sweet Briar Farm is - their summer home - and has basically been up here since then," he said.

The condition of the portrait also adds to its value. According to the Democrat and Chronicle, "The painting is expected to fetch between $200,000 and $300,000." Cottone said that nothing about the piece, including the frame, has been changed or restored. "Everything's totally original in the painting," he assured.

The "Winthrop Astor Chanler" portrait of Washington will be auctioned off on March 27. For more information, visit cottoneauctions.com.