A Sunday, November 20, auction at Crown Auctions in Medford displayed an extraordinary piece of Chelsea’s history. It was the top section of an elaborate soda fountain manufactured by Chelsea’s Low Art Tile Company in the 1890’s. An undisclosed buyer made a top bid of $17,000 (hammer price).
The fountain piece, in excellent condition, measured five feet tall and six feet wide, and one time stood on top of another three foot section that housed a series of soda faucets and syrup cocks, now missing. A light green arched central panel, populated by five cherubs and several birds tumbling through the clouds, is a metaphorical depiction of “Air.” The section also included four maroon and gold vine covered columns, and a top mantle that gleamed a soft pink hue.
The fountain came from a drug store in the North End. In its time, around 1895, it cost $1000. From there it found its way into a room on the fourth floor above Joe Tecce’s Ristorante and was removed with a crane by Deathwish Piano Movers for transport to the auction.
A sculpture like this was incorporated into a giant (16 by 22 foot) $10,000 Low soda fountain that was sent to the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. That fountain’s three panels depicted “Air,” “Water,” and “Thirst.”
The Low Art Tile Company operated in Chelsea from 1879 until about 1904, and produced an array of colorful monochrome tiles that were used to decorate walls, fireplace surrounds, cast iron stoves, clocks, and a wide variety of other products. Their soda fountain venture began in 1889 and ended around the turn of the century.
At one time soda water was as big as Starbucks.
Richard Pennington is the author of the 2010 book “Low Art Tile – John Gardner Low & the artists of Boston’s Gilded Age,” available on amazon.com. His research on the Low tile company is ongoing and he welcomes any new information. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.