Published: July 11, 2000
By R. Scudder Smith, Publisher
NEW YORK CITY – Harold Sack, 89, president of Israel Sack Inc., died on Saturday, July 9, after a short hospitalization at South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside.
Mr Sack wrote, in his American Treasure Hunt, “When I was about nine or ten years old, my father began to bundle me up and the two of us would go off to spend Saturday afternoons together. Back in those early 1920s, other fathers might be taking their sons to a Fenway Park ball game, or downtown to the movies or to a vaudeville show, or even camping or fishing along some sparkling New England trout stream.
“Not my father, Israel Sack. He had me beside him in the front seat of his long, open Buick touring car, on its black leather upholstery, and in those pre-seatbelt days, we careened our way down rutted back dirt roads, calling on a Mr Littlefield, or Mr Tuck, some farmer, or a rural entrepreneur who’s lately become a dealer in local antiques.
“It may not have seemed so to me at the time, as I bumped and rolled on that drafty front seat, but in truth, we were on a far more romantic mission than any of my school classmates those Saturdays. We were treasure hunting.”
That was just the beginning, for Harold He was considered by his peers to be tops in the field, a daring buyer of antiques, and an expert on American furniture.
Harold Sack was born in Lynn, Mass., the eldest son of Israel and Ann Sack. He attended Boston Latin School and later graduated in 1932 magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, from Dartmouth College, where he majored in English literature.
He joined the family business in 1933, as president of the firm, about the same time the business moved from its Charles Street address in Boston to New York City. The shop moved three times to various locations on 57th Street, the longest period spent at number 15 East 57th. On October 21, 1993, Israel Sack Inc. moved once again, this time to spacious quarters at the Crown Building, 730 Fifth Avenue, between 56th and 57th Streets. There the firm occupies 11,000 square feet of gallery space and sells some of the finest American furniture.
In 1969, following a lecture Harold Sack gave at the Grolier Club in New York, a young man asked the following: “Mr Sack, have prices for antiques peaked? Where do you think they will go in the future?” Harold Sack answered, “I don’t think the future has arrived yet,” adding, “No American piece has yet reached the magic hundred thousand dollar mark at auction. We’ve seen such prices at private sales, but the general public doesn’t know about them.”
Eleven years later Harold Sack, seated at the front of the gallery at Christie’s, and with pen in hand, bid $12.1 million for the Nicholas Brown bonnet-top secretary in mahogany made by John Goddard. That number still stands as the highest price ever paid at auction for a piece of American furniture. Prior to that time Harold Sack had established other auction records, paying $135,000 for a Boston bombe chest in 1977, $396,000 for a block-front Newport chest in 1983, and $687,500 in 1983 for a Newport kneehole desk.
In addition to a high-powered list of clients, including Robert M. Bass, the Texas financier, the Sack firm sold to numerous museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Colonial Williamsburg, Winterthur, and the Art Institute of Chicago. At the Metropolitan he was a founding member of the Friends of the American Wing and in 1980 three period galleries were opened by the Sack firm in memory of Israel Sack. In 1996, Harold, Albert and Robert Sack received the Henry F. duPont Award for outstanding achievement in the field of the American decorative arts for the firm, making it the only time this award was given to a dealer.
During his long career in the antiques business, Harold Sack was in great demand as a lecturer, served as a national trustee at the Baltimore Museum of Art, and was an advisor to Clement E. Conger in the formation of the Diplomatic Reception Rooms at the State Department. Together with Lawrence Fleischman he founded and chaired the Channel 13 auctions which have raised millions of dollars for Public television.
Harold Sack suffered from Parkinson’s disease and was in a wheelchair for the past few years, but nevertheless was in the gallery at least three times a week. There he worked with his two younger brothers, Albert, vice president, and Robert, treasurer.
In addition to his brothers, he is survived by his wife, the former Lauretta Dorn; four sons, Daniel of New York, David of Pearland, Tex., Dr Kenneth Sack of Tiberon, Calif., and Michael of Philadelphia; and eight grandchildren. Services were private and a memorial service is being planned for some time this fall. Donations in the memory of Harold Sack may be made to the National Hemophilia Foundation, 116 West 32nd Street, 11th Floor, New York City, N.Y. 10001, or the Diplomatic Reception Rooms, Office of the Director, Department of State, Washington, D.C. 20520.
Shortly after the hammer fell on the sale of the Nicholas Brown secretary, Harold Sack was quoted as saying, “Not all masterpieces hang on the wall.” No one in the antiques business has proven this as well as Harold Sack, and he did it with class.
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