Cintra & the estate of Joseph Stanley at Rago

Editorial Staff

Editorial Staff

Beginning on Saturday August 1, more than 500 lots from the estate of Joseph Stanley will go on view at Rago Arts and Auction Center in Lambertville, New Jersey, before being sold at auction on August 8. Items in the sale—which range from 18th-century English furniture to a wide array of Chinese export art and objects—are the unusual survival of stock from Stanley’s once thriving antiques business, which were stored away in his stately New Hope, Pennsylvania estate, Cintra, for over twenty years. The house, with its now faded grandeur, provides a romanticized context for these treasures from the past. The slideshow below features just a small sampling of upcoming lots.

Inspired by a palace outside Lisbon, William Maris, a local builder and entrepreneur in New Hope, began building Cintra around 1816. Among the distinctive features of the 2 ½-story fieldstone house are its floorplan—a central octagonal entrance with symmetrical flanking wings—its rear piazza and sunken garden, and its distinctive yellow pebble-dash exterior. Plagued by financial troubles, Maris remained there only until 1827. After changing hands several times, the estate was purchased in 1834 by the Ely family, prominent Quakers in Bucks County, who kept it for more than a hundred years. Stanley and his partner Dewey Curtis were enthralled by its unusual design, stately interiors, and rich historical significance, and bought it in 1973.


Stanley and Curtis had met several years earlier while studying art and architecture at the University of Virginia. Both have been described as charming and wonderfully entertaining—they hosted many parties at Cintra—and absolutely voracious in their collecting. Curtis, who for a time was the curator of Pennsbury Manor in New Hope, worked side by side in Stanley’s antiques business. Each was keenly knowledgeable and had a wonderful eye—developing a particular taste for 18th-century English furniture and decorative art.

They used the first floor at Cintra as a showroom, and the mansion was quickly filled with art and antiques purchased on buying trips abroad—fueled by annual tours of English country houses that they organized for women’s groups and other enthusiasts. Through the contacts they made over many years in Britain and Europe, they amassed a remarkable quantity of 18th- and early 19th-century household furnishings.

When Curtis died in 1986, Stanley continued to acquire antiques, but made little effort to sell them, and around that time closed his business to the public. The vast inventory of Sheraton-style furniture, Persian rugs, porcelain dishes, wooden and tortoiseshell boxes, and stacks of oil paintings and other artwork overtook portions of the house—in some parts, furniture was stacked nearly to the 12-foot-high ceilings. After Stanley’s death in 2008, Rago specialists Tom Martin and Kristina Wilson spent several months virtually in residence at Cintra, organizing and cataloguing the contents, some of which, mostly porcelain objects, were sold at an earlier auction.

A virtual time capsule was preserved in Stanley’s antiques collection—accentuated by the endless stacks of old Country Life magazines strewn among the rooms. While Cintra’s decaying elegance adds a new chapter to the mansion’s fabled history, the property, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, will soon be on the market, and as with its contents, will hopefully find a second life.

Rago Arts & Auction Center is located at 333 North Main Street in Lambertville, New Jersey. For more information call 866-724-6278 or visit www.ragoarts.com.

Photographs by Lynnette Mager Wynn, courtesy of Rago Arts.