When I tell people my house was furnished mainly by Sloan's, I don't mean W&J, the high-toned furniture store. Though I don't always elaborate on the point, I mean C.G. Sloan & Co., the city's oldest auction house. Until a recent splurge on a kitchen table, we hadn't bought a piece of new furniture in ten years of marriage. When we wanted something we jsut waited until it appeared at either Sloan's or Weschler's, Washington's other major auction house.
Our living-room windows went bare until a pair of burgundy satin drapes with tasseled swags and jabots - the kind Scarlett O'Hara would have had a dress made of if she'd wanted to look more like Belle Watling - showed up. Nobody noticed this folded up in a carton, and I got them for $3. Several years later, we bought a wing chair that matches the draperies perfectly, for $15. (If you concentrate on the perfect match, you don't notice that the springs sag slightly.)
The antique brass mosque lamp that sheds green, blue and red light on our entrance hall came not from Marrakech but from Sloan's, for $22.50.It hangs above a threadbare Princess Boukhara rug, which I got for $10 when the auctioneer asked "What am I bid for what's left of this rug?"
All of this - and much, much more - came from the regular weekly furniture sales. Over the years the sale day has been switched several times and the prices have gradually risen, but the style of the auction hasn't changed. The auctioneer starts in the back of the hall - with the Hollywood beds and collections of jelly glasses - and is gradually wheeled toward the front and the higher-quality merchandise. Around noon, everybody goes out and brings back hamburgers, which they eat seated on whatever chair or sofa hasn't sold yet.
The catalog sales, held several times a year, lack this insouciance. They are fancy-dress events where everyone sits demurely on folding chairs as item are carried on stage one by one. The two purchases I've made at these sales - a $135 oil painting by the wife of the first director of the Corcoran and a $90 pair of torchiere lamps that only looks as if they were used in the movie "Sunset Boulevard" - weren't half as much fun.
This summer, Sloan's is holding a series of two-day weekend auctions designed to combine the informality of the regular sales with the quality of the catalog sales. "We'll have about a thousand lots," said co-owner Donald Webster. "We'll start out with cheaper stuff on Saturday morning, but by Sunday afternoon we should be getting catalog-sale prices - about $200 per lot."
Lists of items with their estimated prices will be available at the sale, he said, adding that the estimates are merely guidelines.
Among the items to go under the gavel are an intricately carved French Gothic-style altarpiece, a baby grand piano, a Renaissance Revival oak chair carved with cleft-footed, leering satyrs; a couch and chair set somebody's grandmother probably got rid of; paintings by Robert Ryland, a Washington artist who worked for the WPA; the kind of player piano that doesn't play on its own but hits the keys of a regular piano; a hand-painted leather trunk (as is); a collection of paintings by Philadelphia Impressionist Oliver Boyce Judson; a wind-up Edison phonograph; and a hexagonal oak cabinet with a bowl of lollipops that have probably been hidden inside it for decades.
Sloan's, in business since 1891, has been at its present stand at 715 13th St. NW, a former hotel, since 1919. Now the building which architecture buffs have described as a prime example of "robust Romanesque Revival style" with "rusticated stone arches and squat columns," may soon be going, going, gone. It's part of a city-owned urban-renewal parcel currently being bid on. "We've been offered an attractive proposition near White Flint, but I can't see Sloan's being suburban." Two of the several developers who are vying for rights to this Metro Center site have said, however, that they're interested in saving the building.