Goes on the Auction Block
by Bob Brooke
auctioneer’s hammer came down at $16,500 for a fine Midwestern
Stagecoach from around 1849 at the July 9 Deaccession Auction
presented by Cordier Auctions & Appraisals of Harrisburg,
Pennsylvania. The final bid for the stagecoach far exceeded its
$2,000 to $4,000 estimate. The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum
Commission (PHMC) authorized the auction to weed out extra items
from its vast collection and to raise money. A touring car and a New
England mail sleigh also brought in some big bucks.
Over the last 20 years or so, deaccession, or the sale of extraneous
items from museum collections, has become a big part of the antique
auction industry. One reason is the lack of adequate storage space
at many museums and the other is money. Most museums are strapped
for funds most of the time. While many rely on grants and gifts from
benefactors, usually the amount of money needed to maintain their
large collections far exceeds the amount raised.
There was a time when museum curators wouldn’t think of selling off
items from their collections. Wealthy donors would outright give or
leave antiques and memorabilia to them in their wills. No museum
could say no because most of these objects came from individuals or
families who had given the museum a good deal of money over time.
And everyone thinks that what they’re donating is important.
The Anthracite Heritage Museum, Cornwall
Iron Furnace, Drake Well Museum, Ephrata Cloister, Eckley Miners'
Village, Fort Pitt Museum, Graeme Park, Landis Valley Village and Farm
Museum, Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, Somerset Historical Center,
Washington Crossing Historic Park, and the State Museum of Pennsylvania
all stored items sent to the auction. Each historic site contains
grounds and buildings containing hundreds of artifacts pertinent to use
at the sites. Most likely their collections included duplicates of some
items or poorer examples of others which were redundant.
The auction featured a variety of historic items, including 1960s travel
posters, a stagecoach, mail sleigh, early automobile, foundry patterns,
books, furnishings, photographic records, agriculture and textile
working tools and equipment, prints, engravings, and an assortment of
19th and 20th century household and merchandising objects.
The PHMC is the official history agency of the Commonwealth of
Pennsylvania. Created in 1945, it is responsible for the collection,
conservation, and interpretation of Pennsylvania's historic heritage
materials. The agency contracted Cordier to auction items that had no
special significance to the history of the Commonwealth, or that
duplicated what was already in the state’s collection.
online, floor, and absentee bidding pushed many lots of the auction to
realize higher prices, raising a total of almost $65,000 for the museum
commission. Among the highest performing lots was a 1909 Zimmerman
Touring Car, which was one of only 12 existing Zimmermans known and the
only known Touring Car. Interested bidders volleyed over the historic
car before it finally finished at $26,000. At a hammer price of $2,300,
a 19th Century New England Mail Sleigh was also a standout.
Other exciting pieces included an 18th Century edition of Martyr’s
Mirror from the Ephrata Cloister, selling for $900, an early poster of
Rome, selling for $600, several antique charcoal buggies, selling for
$475 each, and a painting attributed to DeWitt C. Boutelle, a 19th
century Pennsylvania artist, which brought $750.
Prior to being consigned for sale, the PHMC offered the objects to other
PHMC properties as well as other historic museums state and nationwide.
Money raised from the auction can only be used to buy or conserve
artifacts that enhance the PHMC’s mission of preserving the
Commonwealth’s natural and cultural heritage as steward, teacher and
advocate for the people of Pennsylvania.
Deaccession auctions such as this enable collectors of fine and
specialty antiques to acquire items that they couldn’t otherwise.
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