The Knoll chairs didn’t look that unusual. In fact, they were kind of beat up.
But buyers at Quinn’s Auction Galleries in Falls Church were bidding on more than a piece of furniture — they were vying for a piece of congressional history: items owned by former House Speaker Tom Foley.
Sunday’s live auction offered 24 lots of art, tables and chairs that once graced the offices and home of Foley and his wife, Heather. “We spent our lives buying furniture,” Heather told us Friday. “It was a great hobby.”
Now the Foleys are downsizing: The former speaker, 84, is in home hospice (“He’s in good spirits,” said Heather); his wife is tending to him and renovating their property next door. So “we could use the extra cash.”
Back in the day, the couple spent their extra time and money on modern art and furniture. They started out collecting pieces for their home, then moved on to replacing the fusty furniture in the Capitol office — where Heather worked as her husband’s chief of staff and manager — with contemporary pieces.
“When you think of politicians, you think tufted leather and hunt scenes,” said Skip Usry, an auction specialist who had his eye on a black leather sofa. “To see this mid-century collection is just fantastic.”
In person, most of the pieces had a well-worn, almost scruffy look. But that didn’t deter buyers, who exceeded most of the auction estimates: Two black leather Barcelona chairs sold for $2,400, two caramel leather Mies van der Rohe Tugendhat chairs for $3,000, a Hans Wegner lounge chair for $4,750. The gallery offered two bronze Harry Bertoia sculptures; one sold for $16,000, the other didn’t meet the reserve.
The most valuable piece? A Jamini Roy painting, “The Flight Into Egypt,” that Heather bought in Calcutta shortly before she married Tom in 1969. She was a fan of the well-known Indian artist and paid $600 for the work; it sold for $22,000 at the auction. “I really love that painting, so that was a hard one” to let go, she told us.
The Foleys also unloaded a few Santos figures — inexpensive carved-wood saints, but with an interesting background: Tom bought them in the 1970s during a congressional trip to the Philippines when Imelda Marcos invited local craftsmen and vendors onto her Philippines president husband’s yacht. “How many items do you get to buy that were purchased on the Marcos yacht?” said the gallery’s Matt Quinn. “Here are relatively basic items that have great stories and great provenance.”
All together, the auction brought in $67,455. No telling if the winning bidders were art collectors, furniture buffs or loyal former staffers: Almost every buyer for the Foley collection did their bidding online.