NORTHAMPTON, MASS. — Local auction patrons and antiques dealers packed themselves into the Smith School here on March 3 to browse the contents of a diverse concluding auction by George T. Lewis, but also to honor the auctioneer, who was capping a 35-year career at the podium.
Lewis belies his chronological age with youthful vigor, sharp wit and stamina at the podium. The sale comprised 600 or so lots and he dispatched them all — including the chair he sat on, the jewelry display cases and the “George Thomas Lewis & Co.” banner that hung above the stage — over the course of about six hours. He also exhibits a dry humor coupled with a positive outlook, which came through in a quip uttered as one of the lots — a print depiction of a Grease-era John Travolta by photographer Douglas Kirkland — crossed the block. “We both [the auction trade and Travolta] looked really good back then,” he observed.
Lewis, a bit apologetic that this last hurrah was not a “blockbuster” event, is nevertheless the epitome of a reputable regional auctioneer who reliably lines up a diverse offering of estate antiques, usually about four times a year, and capably disperses them at the rate of about 100 or so lots an hour, taking time at intervals to, in his words, “tell a little story” about an item up crossing the block. According to Judy Swan, a realtor from Longmeadow, Mass., who has attended Lewis’ sales since the beginning and was in the hall for this event, he is the “go-to guy.” “He’s always the one banks send their clients to,” she said. “He’s very well respected and I’m glad to be here to honor him today.”
Another loyal patron with a 35-year perspective is Scott Stearns, also from Longmeadow, who collects mostly folk art and paperweights. He recalls a wonderful horse weathervane he purchased at one of Lewis’ auctions. Now he will have to look for the smalls he collects at other regional auction firms like Skinner, Stanton’s, Douglas and Osona.
Many others came through the door into the large gymnasium where the lots were displayed on tables, on the stage and any available floor space around the room’s perimeter. There were about 175 registered bidders, seats were filled and people stood at the rear of the hall through much of the late morning and early afternoon. “It was very pleasant,” said Lewis afterwards. “There were even some people I haven’t seen in a long time who said they enjoyed our sales.”
At the podium, Lewis, who eschews using a gavel, prefaced the auction’s start with an expression of gratitude, first, to his supportive wife Barbara Lewis, and to the crowd gathered in the room, thanking them for their patronage over the years. “I’ve had a wonderful run,” he said. “I’m not certain what I’ll do next, but I am certainly going to align myself to others having similar values to mine. And if I can’t find the right fit, I won’t do anything. I would never do anything I’m not comfortable with.”
The sale itself, as Lewis had previously indicated, was not a showcase sale in the league of some of his past memorable events, such as the Elizabeth Skinner estate of South Hadley, Mass., which grossed more than $1.2 million in 1988, or a profile consignment in the manner of property from the Sisters of Providence of Holyoke, Mass. There were notable highlights, however, among the offered artwork, pocket watches, jewelry, sterling silver — some in the form of awards and trophies from the fabled Pine Valley Gold Club in southern New Jersey — Oriental rugs and antique furniture and decorative accessories.
The hands-down top lot of the sale was not an antique but a 2007 GMC Sierra pickup truck with 71,200 miles on the odometer. An estate vehicle of Roger Pelletier, Monson, Mass., the truck, which was parked outside the school building and ready to be driven away, was bid to $14,950.
A Slingerland drum set, cataloged as the Gene Krupa “Super Radio King Ensemble,” was won with a $3,105 left bid.
Among furniture lots, a small carved corner cupboard with wrought iron hardware went out at $1,150.
There was much artwork, including a parade of large-scale contemporary photographs that once graced the walls of the Hallmark Institute of Photography. And, among fine art, Mark Meunier’s tempera on board titled “Winter Road” took $1,495, while a painting titled “Spring in Haddam,” signed but illegibly so, surprised at $1,783.
Another surprise came amid a small selection of antique dolls when a French example dressed in a tan outfit was bid to $2,990.
The top sterling silver lots were an 80-piece Oneida Heirloom sterling flatware set in the “Sentimental” pattern that bought $1,524 and an S. Kirk & Son sterling flatware set in the “Calvert” pattern that garnered the same amount.
The most macabre item was a human skull that had been found sitting on a table in North Amherst. “Where are you going to find another one?” asked Lewis as he brought a knuckle down on the podium at $322.
Prices reported include the buyer’s premium.