Twice in a lifetime Philip Bradley had the chance to buy a treasure. But, like a lot of things, this treasure had a higher price the second go-round, some 35 years after the first.
Bradley is a Philadelphia antique dealer, a tall, well-rounded man with a shy look about him. Now most antique dealers would rather tell you the size of their bank accounts than give away what they're going to bid on the next day, but Friday night,at a party at the Tidewater Inn on Maryland's Eastern Shore, he couldn't help talking about the first time he saw the "rare Queen Anne eagle inlaid walnut spice cabinet in the form of a miniature highboy, late 18th century."
"About 35 years ago," he said, "a picker, (a scout for an antique dealer) came to me and said he paid $200 for a little cabinet he'd found in a farm house in Chester County, Pennsylvania. He thought I might be interested.
"When I saw it I gulped and gave him $1,000 for it.
"I thought I'd done pretty well when I doubled my money by selling it to David Stockwell, a Wilmington dealer. But I can tell you I felt a little funny when I heard he had sold it for $5,000 or $6,000 to Col. and Mrs. Garbisch. So tomorrow, if I can, I'd like to buy it back."
Sure enough, Saturday amid the hot and heavy bidding for the Garbischs' exquisite collecton of miniature furniture, Bradley got his spice cabinet -- on a bid of $23,000. Yesterday morning, the last day of the sale Bradley grinned and said he guessed tha t 23 times his original price was not too much to pay. "I just think I might have a buyer for it," he said.
At the last session the household goods, including the chairs strictly for sitting on, were sold. Errol G. Pritchett, a marine construction man who lives just four miles from Pokety has another story to tell about his purchase, but he had a hard time getting his wife to let him tell it.
The Pritchetts bought the cheapest thing sold during the auction. Listening to the hypnotic chant of Sotheby president John Marion, they bought what might be called locally "an itty-bitty vase" -- white ironstone, with figures on the side. They paid $40 for it. But Pritichett was just getting going, going, strong. Marion announced, "Now, I've got a truck to sell. I've never sold a truck before. A 1967 brown Dodge 200 Truck. It's on exhibit in the driveway."
After a round of heavy bidding, the winner was Pritchitt -- for $700. His wife said, "He bought the truck to take the vase home." But he still wasn't satisfied. So when the last lot of all came up, an 18-foot wooden boat with an inboard Chrysler engine, Pritchitt bit again and got it for $2,800. After the auction Pritchett said, "i know that boat, Mr. Garbisch gave me the first motor it had. It was rusty.
"Sure I knew the Garbisches. My father planted all those boxwoods for Mr. Chrysler before his daughter took the house. I built the locks in the lagoon. Mr. Garbisch wasn't much of a huntin' man, but he sure liked to bowl. Some mornings he'd get his manager up early to bowl with him."
The losing bidder on the truck was Jimmy Jones, the estate manager. Jones inherited $30,000 from the Garbisches, 13 guns, and "a not very rare, but very important, hunting dog, Billy," who frolicked around the estate as the last of the antique hunters left.
The four-day, multimillion-dollar Gbarbisch auction here was like a country house party. Many of the dealers and collectors knew each other, and some had sold choice pieces to Colonel Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch. The people attending guardedly compared opinions on the objects, applauded each other's victories, commiserated when their friends were outbid by the faceless buyer on the telephone.
At night they filled the few posh restaurants in the quiet towns of Cambridge, Oxford, St. Michael's and Easton. The big bidders sat in reserved seats at the front of the auction tent. There the auctioneers, William Stahl and John Marion, could see the flicks of the bidders' pens, the signal to raise the price by another $1,000.
The hottest spot was the auction box where Stahl and Marion looked for bids through the 1,500-seat tent and outside, where 500 or so sat on the lawn.
Albert Sack, who with his brother Harold of Israel Sack dealers in New York, said, "No doubt these prices have set new floors in the whole field of Americana collecting."
The Sack firm sold a fine federal inlaid mahogany bowfront sideboard, circa 1811, some years back for about $6,500. Saturday they bought it back for $24,000. "And I think we got a bargain, " said Harold Sack of the firm.
The highest price ever bid at auction for a piece of Americana was the $250,000 for the Edmund Townsend kneehole desk sold Saturday to an anonymous private collector.
"These blockbuster pieces attract all the attention," Albert Sack said. 'But the dealers quietly buy a great many pieces that are well price. It is these we can resell at a profit. But you have to know what you're doing. We got a real steal on that fine federal turned and inlaid mahogany Martha Washington armchair, 1800-1810. We knew the chair because we had originally owned it before it was sold to the Garbisches. Thousands of copies were made in the 20's from a rather fuzzy picture of the chair in the Furniture Treasury'.
"The word got around that this was not that chair, but we phoned our other brother in New York. He checked the book and we knew it was the one. So we bought it for $12,000. We had been willing to go $30,000."
Sack said he thought the Garbisch collection, even with its blockbuster prices, was not the last great Americana furniture collection in private hands. "At least another six collectors have better furniture," he said. "At least a half-dozen collections have formed in the last 10 years or better. "One has 20 to 30 masterpieces," he said.
Often auctioneers Marion and Stahl would almost twist their heads off moving back and forth between tent and phone as they chanted, "$19,000, $20,000, against all of you at $20,000 up here at $20,000. In the right aisle at $21,000, up here at $22,000. Fair warning at $22,000. $23,000 in time. Fair warning at $23,000. Down it goes at $23,000."
The Garbisch collections of procelain and miniature American furniture were highly regarded as among the best in the field. One dealer said, "With exception of the desk and a few other stars, the rest they bought to furnish their house, not to make a collection. But their eye was marvelous. Even the little wooden boxes they bought were beautiful."
The Garbisches' prime collection was of American naive paintings. They were the first to collect art by untrained artists of the late 18th and 19th century in America. This collection has gone to the National Gallery of Art and several other museums. Some water colors and paintings were included in the catalogue, consigned to Sotheby's before the Garbisches' death, but the executors, Paul R. Brenner and Harvey Folks Zimand of Kelley, Drye and Warren of New York withdrew the art from the sale on the grounds that the will provided that the art was a gift to the nation.
Mary Lehman, a lawyer with the firm, said the Garbisches had planned this sale for years. They wanted the objects sold as a complete collection.
So far the 480-acre Pokety estate has not been sold. The asking price is $3 million by Sotheby's real estate division. The Garbisches' New York apartment was sold for more than half a million dollars to an anonymous single woman. The Palm Beach apartment is also for sale.
Proceeds from the estate got to the son Edgar William Garbisch Jr. of nearby St. Michael's, and a daughter, Gwynne Chrysler Severance of Newton Square, Pa., and the three grandchildren.
One grandson, Frank Rhodes, was at the auction Saturday. He said that he had paid $5 each for a pair of duck decoys as a gift for his grandparents. In the catalogue the ducks were valued at a top of $150. The ducks and a few other objects were withdrawn from the sale by the family.
The wole area has prospered from the Pokety sales. The Memorial Day weekend is always the opener for tourist crowds to come to the Eastern Shore of Maryland. The Tidewater Inn in Easton and the Robert Morris Inn in Oxford were booked up as soon as the Pokety sale was announced. As late as 9 p.m. Saturday night people lined up to wait as much as two hours for a dinner table.
Along the way into Pokety "for sale" signs for barns lined the country road as thick as traffic signs in town. One local had a truckload of duck decoys set up for sale along the road. Another neighbor held a home painting exhibition.
The Garbisches have given their last big Pokety party. Today only a few stagglers are picking up their hard purchased wares. The house, usually full of flowers and precious porcelain bowls, is empty. The staff, worrying about their next jobs, are working to clean up after thousands of people who came to the auction.
The lawns will take longer to recover from the spiked heels, the umbrella and cane prints.