Published: March 6, 2007
The Connecticut Historical Society Museum triumphed at J. Pearson Antiques’ auction with its winning bid of $41,800 for the magic box recently discovered and offered by the descendents of the magician/farmer Albert Walker. The magic box is a large paint decorated wooden box, made in the 1850s by Walker to hold all his magic tricks and associated paraphernalia. Walker toured the Hartford area offering, as his posters-flyers said, “Splendid Amusement! Startling Feats of Legerdemain.” Later in his life he was a puppeteer, entertaining audiences with Punch and Judy shows, and eight of his handmade puppets were part of the collection offered on Saturday, January 27.
The museum from Hartford learned that the magic box was being offered when a friend of the museum sent an email to Susan Schoelwer, director of museum collections, telling her of a preshow story in Antiques and The Arts Weekly . Schoelwer brought it to the attention of Kate Steinway, the executive director of the society, and others on the staff, all of whom quickly went to examine the collection. After that there were several meetings where it was decided that Richard Malley, curator of technology for the museum, would attend the auction with checkbook in hand.
The auction began at 4:30 pm with Pearson advising the crowd that the magic box would be sold at 6:30, thus keeping the Pawcatuck VFW hall filled for the 200-plus lots that were sold before then.
Just after 6, one of the advertised pieces was offered. It was a campaign pin for G.B. McClelland when he campaigned against Abraham Lincoln. This highly sought-after item attracted three bidders by telephone and one floor bidder; when the bidding was over, the pin went for $2,420. Shortly after that a Nineteenth Century collection from a Glastonbury, Conn., general store, including the store’s logo, stencil book, cabinet and accounts books, sold for $770 to a quiet gentleman sitting by himself on the side of the room.
At 6:30, with several telephones working with bidders from California and Chicago and many in the room lifting their cards, the magic box and all its contents †the tricks, the puppets, a stand, costume for the helper, hand bills, the works †was put up. The auctioneer had a left bid which allowed him to open at $7,500; when he reached $20,000 the room became quiet as everyone watched the several bidders still in the fray. At that point the bids jumped by $1,000; at $30,000 the increments moved to $2,000. All the time the quiet gentleman on the side was keeping his bid in contention until all others dropped out at $38,000. Sold to the quiet gentleman, Richard Malley, bidding for the Connecticut Historical Society Museum, for a total, with the ten percent buyer’s premium, of $41,800.
After the sale Malley was happy to discuss the museum’s purchases that evening: “These items †the magic, the Glastonbury store materials and a box of clock repair items, which also had been the property of the magician/puppeteer Albert Walker †were most exciting. The provenance was Connecticut; the condition of the items is amazing and the fact that the magic collection was intact made the purchase most exciting for the museum.”
Following up on this purchase Steinway said, “I saw the email of the Bee ‘s [Antiques and The Arts Weekly] story about the auction. The puppets were the first thing I noticed, then the magic box. I realized the enormity of the collection and its Connecticut history and provenance.”
Steinway said there are some funds in the society’s endowment that “are specifically for acquisition of appropriate historical artifacts. We spent a great deal of time deciding how much to spend.”
Walker’s great-grandson Howard Rath, a Hartford-area resident whose mother was the consigner, was also pleased the collection would remain in Connecticut.
J. Pearson Antiques is at 61 Mystic Road in North Stonington, Conn. Jeff Pearson, owner, has three auctions a year, the next one will be in late April. For information, www.jpearsonantiques.com or 860-535-8419.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm