Stories about the odd doings of Texas millionaires are a staple of modern folklore, and recently the shards of one such tale went on the auction block here.
Broken pieces of jade, ivory, white nephrite and lapis lazuli -- all thought to be remnants of an Asian art collection that Fort Worth millionaire Cullen Davis and evangelist James Robison destroyed two years ago in a night of religious fervor -- were sold off.
Intact, the collection reputedly was worth more than $1 million. It belonged to Davis, a second-generation oil tycoon and a born-again Christian.
He donated it to Robison in 1982 to help the faith-healer pay debts that threatened his national television ministry.
But Robison, as he told the story in January 1983 to Fort Worth Star Telegram reporter Jim Jones, was on his way to Dallas to sell the collection when he happened upon a verse in Deuteronomy that implored: "You shall burn the craven images of their gods with fire; you shall not covet the silver and gold that is on them . . . . "
The collection included statues of Hindu holy men and temple dogs. Robison says he decided that these were idols, an "abomination to the Lord." So he returned the collection to Davis' mansion.
"I told him that I couldn't receive it but that he might want to donate it to someone else," Robison recounted. He said Davis started crying and told him, "If you can't have it, then I can't have it."
Davis fetched hammers, and the pair began smashing the collection. "He literally worshipped art objects and to see him destroy what he had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on was so great," Robison said.
An employe of Robison's ministry threw the pieces into a nearby lake.
When the evangelist disclosed the episode in the newspaper interview, it made a splash, in part because Davis already had had a little more notoriety than most Texas tycoons.
In 1978, he had been acquitted of the murder of his estranged wife's boyfriend and her daughter by another marriage. The next year he was tried for allegedly hiring someone to kill his divorce-court judge. He was acquitted -- again in a blaze of publicity filled with lurid details about his private life.
This summer an airman and his fiance were fishing in Lake Worth. They saw shiny objects and began fishing out lapis, ivory and silver. They took what they had gathered to a local museum curator, who made the connection to the Davis-Robison story.
The airman then gave the pieces on consignment to auctioneer and antique dealer Warren Miller.
Friday night, a crowd of about 100 people attended the auction. The Davis pieces had been divided into 15 lots. Most fragments were so tiny that they were in plastic sandwich bags. The biggest piece, weighing perhaps two pounds, was a part of a lapis vase.
Most of the curious were not impressed.
"If I had fished this stuff out of a lake, I just might have throwed it back," said Perry Pearson, who'd come from Houston at the urging of his sister, an antique dealer.
Miller asked for an opening bid of $100 on the first lot of the Davis collection. He got $10. The high bid was $45.
The 15 lots brought a total of $561.50.
"I'm surpised it all went for such little bitty prices," said Peter Bruce, a BMW salesman and art collector who bought an ivory piece for $35. "The piece I bought has a gorgeous carved face on it. It's also going to be a good conversation piece."
But Mary Frances Conners, an antique dealer who'd come to satisfy her curiosity, said she wasn't surprised.
"The only value these pieces have is as curios," she said. Was she curious enough to bid?
"No way, Jose," she said. "I was on the grand jury that indicted the man."