Russian Vase

April 22, 2013 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

JUNKYARD HOG THE ATTIC – These are some dusty Guy Fawkes Day decorations, no doubt made by him and worth a fortune. This calendar is priceless if 1995 ever comes back. What museum wants my battered suitcase I took to Romania to see real paranoid governance, long before the Tea Party existed? Eat your heart out, Randy Buttram. You, too, Ryan Givens. Let me bring you up to speed so you’ll stop wondering why I am in the attic going through my junk collection while thinking of people you never heard of. Randy Buttram is 66, lives in Oklahoma City and, like all citizens of the Okie State, had enormously wealthy grandparents, Frank and Merle Buttram. (Grandpa either owned oil or was an OU halfback). They traveled the world picking up stuff for their sprawling Italian Renaissance mansion back in Oklahoma – art work, furniture, small villages. One of the grandparents’ collectables was actually two. They were ornate vases four and a half feet tall which they bought in 1928 from the Bernheimer Gallery in Munich. The vases were hardly noticeable in a house that had an entryway with twin staircases, and a bowling alley in the basement. But Randy remembered the vases were first put at his grandparents’ main entrance and later moved to a hearth in his parents’ home. One of the pieces was decorated with a copy of the “The Concert” by Dutch painter A. Palamedes, an artwork from the 1600s currently on display in the Hermitage. Both vases came apart so that the several smaller pieces could be stored, which they were for a decade after Randy’s parents deaths.. Recently, the Buttram brothers unpacked the vases and noticed the top portion of one of them had the blue markings of Russia’s Imperial Porcelain Factory used during the reign of Nicholas I, and the date 1833 printed on it. They decided to see if the vases were worth anything, and took them to Dallas for appraisal and auction. The two vases had a pre-auction estimate of $1 million to $1.5 million. They sold for $2.7 million. That’s why I’m looking through my grandparents’ leftovers. They didn’t have a bowling alley in their basement, but did have bowls in their kitchen. Somewhere is my grandfather’s leather razor strap, or strop, with a double-headed eagle at the top. When I asked him what it was, he explained it was the logo of the Imperial Russian Czar. He (my grandfather, not the Czar) was a railroad man and had been asked by the Czarist government to go to Russia and run its railroads. My grandmother argued that he had TB and one Russian winter would kill him. He didn’t go, but never forgave my grandmother for talking him out of it. Since my grandfather wasn’t a czar or even a Russian, in addition to the razor strap he must have left me something from Russia with love. Then there is Ryan Givens and his family. They are the heirs of George O. Walton of North Carolina, a coin collector. When Walton died in 1962, his collection was auctioned off in NYC for a tidy $850,000, except for a 1913 Liberty head nickel that New York numenmatix, numesmattocks… coin experts said was a worthless fake. The coin was stored in a bedside table until recently when new experts pronounced the nickel genuine. The coin, one of only five made, is going to be auctioned off in Chicago shortly for between $2 million and $5 million. You might also have a veritable treasure trove of what we antiquarians refer to as “old stuff” lying about. Remember Michael Sparks, a music equipment technician in Nashville, Tenn. In 2007, Sparks bought a yellowed, shellacked, rolled-up document in a thrift store for $2.48. It turned out to be a rare 1823 copy of the Declaration of Independence, which Sparks later sold at auction for $477,650. In 1989, Donald Scheer of Atlanta bought a painting at a Philadelphia flea market because he liked the frame. When taking it apart, out fell an original copy (about 500 were printed) of the Declaration of Independence. Scheer sold it for $2.42 million, but he got taken. In 2000, that same piece of paper was sold for $8.14 million. Not finding a Rembrandt drawing or Napoleon’s soft doughnut for his saddle – he had terrible hemorrhoids — I go to my library, which is actually a one-by-twelve inch board on two cinder blocks left over from my college dorm room. Did I file that book under G for Guttenberg or B for Bible? Then I remember I traded it for a first copy of Mad magazine. The book wasn’t very valuable because it was in Old German. Who can read that today? Maybe my “How to Change Your Car’s Floor Mats” is worth something. Same for this rare copy of “The Wit and Wisdom of Ma Ferguson.” Maybe you have seen too many shows of PBS-TV’s “Antiques Roadshow.” Then again, you never watch PBS, that pinko screed network. In the program, people bring a sawed-off shotgun and recite their great-uncle’s claim that it was used to blast Bonny and Clyde only to be told it was made in China in 2001. Either way, you still may worry you don’t have anything ancient around the house except for what’s in your freezer. Take a fresh look at your sandals. Did Mahatma Gandhi once walk a mile in them? About that sweaty towel autographed by NBA star center Willie Washington. Is that actually a “Willie” or a “George”? Does your razor strap have a double eagle on top? What’s in my desk that hasn’t been opened since I hid under it during Y2K? There’s probably not much value in this gold Roman coin stamped “25 BC,” mainly because I don’t think it’s real gold. Finally, you’ve been wondering who paid that $2.7 million for a couple of vases? A hint: They fit perfectly as bookends for my collection of Mad magazines. Ashby is still hunting at ashby2@comcast.net

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