I attended an auction in Asheville, North Carolina in about 2001. The auction featured the estate of Samuel Evans of Riverside, CA, and featured many high-quality items from his iconic Arts and Crafts home. I bought 10 oak and black leather nail-head-trimmed dining chairs. There was also a set of oversized leather ledgers with marbled covers. I could see them stacked beside a club chair with a glass top on them. I spent many hours polishing the leather and looking through the ledgers. Several of them were scrapbooks of the time that Samuel Evans served as the first mayor of Riverside from 1907 – 1912 and again from 1922-1926. Another of the ledgers was an accounting of the waterworks for the county. The last entry of the newspaper scrapbook was an article reporting Evan’s indictment for fraud relating to the waterworks.
Obviously, my curiosity was aroused. Before I had time to research the fate of Samuel Evans, I received a phone call. The gentleman was given my name by Brunk Auction House and was a collector of Southern California’s ephemera and history. He had been following the fate of the estate items and somehow missed the notification of the auction. He called hoping that I would sell the items to him. My basic wish for all estate items is for them to go to their best place, hopefully back home where the items would be most appreciated. But I needed to drive a hard bargain. When I was asked if I would sell them to him, I told him that I would on two conditions: (1) That I could make a profit, and (2) that he would tell me the story.
For those of you that saw the movie Chinatown, that storyline was about town officials who diverted the water of the town to irrigate the orange groves. It was loosely based on the story of Samuel Evans, who was also given credit for bringing the citrus orchards to Southern California. He was acquitted and elected to a fifth term as mayor but died before he could be sworn in.
Some stories are stranger than fiction!
I work 50- 60 hours a week as an Interior Designer and handle estate liquidations on the side. I figure it is better than wasting time watching TV. Besides, if you are having fun, it doesn’t feel like work!
Several years ago, I was liquidating a living estate for a widow whose sons had moved her close to them during her beginning stages of Alzheimer’s. The day I met her was a good day, and she was bright and present. Because she was moving certain furniture items to an apartment in North Carolina, the dining room table was full of displaced items. There was a pair of silver and ivory tongs on the table that were particularly intriguing. I called the son and asked if his mother or he remembered anything about this item, because I felt it might be significant. They did not know what I was speaking of and told me it must have been some of her late husbands’ family items. (She loved her things and thought his things were just stuff!) I asked permission to pull them from the sale and do some research when time allowed.
After the sale was conducted, I looked up the mark “M. Price S. F.” I found that the item was made by Michael Price, a well known knife-maker during the gold rush in San Francisco. There was a push dagger that had brought $13,000 in 2008, but Price was known for knives, and the economy has crashed in the meantime. I spent months contacting people who knew people in the San Francisco antiques market looking for a potential buyer. After several months of trying to get a call back from Bonhams auction house in San Francisco, they answered and agreed to consign the item into their November armament auction, with an estimate of $3000 to $5000.
Having felt that I had done the best for the client, I worked in a nearby town the day of the auction. When I returned to the office, I logged onto the Bonhams website to check the results. Anyone within three miles heard me hoop and holler that day when the “lime squeezer” fetched $29,000! When someone asked me how often this happened to me, I answered, “once in a lifetime” and I had my turn. I hope I am wrong. I am out there looking for lightning to strike twice!