Published: August 3, 2021
Review by Greg Smith, Photos Courtesy Fine Estates, Inc.
SAN RAFAEL, CALIF. – Martin Codina, the founder and chief executive officer of Fine Estate Inc., said his July 24-25 sale pulled in just shy of $400,000.
The first day of the auction was led by the button and book collection of north California collector Tom Thorner, who passed away in 2019.
“There was a lot of labor and activist buttons, anti-Vietnam, pro Black Panther, things like that,” Codina said. The auctioneer estimated Thorner’s collection to comprise some 40,000 buttons in total. Over two sales, the firm has dispersed about half of them and still has another 20,000 to go.
Thorner was an environmentalist and social issues champion who graduated from Stanford Law School and went on to run a practice. His obituary noted, “Always politically active, Tom supported the Civil Rights Movement and later helped found the grassroots political organization Marin Alternative to tackle environmental and social justice issues. The group stopped a developer’s plan to develop a wetland along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard and worked to oppose the Vietnam War.”
His lifetime collection of political and social buttons and ephemera reflected the same causes. Leading the offerings was a $4,800 result for a group of Robert F. Kennedy campaign buttons that numbered to over 75 examples. Some were duplicates but bidders didn’t mind as the lot went through 37 bid increments before selling to a button collector.
Two 9-inch buttons for the 1964 Barry Goldwater presidential run were among a pile of other buttons from the same campaign. The group sold for $1,560.
Vietnam buttons numbered to at least 900 examples spread over 13 lots. The highest, a group of 150 peace buttons took $750. A group of 60 anti-draft buttons sold for the same and the others sold anywhere from $156 to $562.
Among the Black Panther material was a lot of buttons, ephemera, stickers, pamphlets and rally flyers that went on to take $812.
From the same collection was a Cyrus Noble whiskey sign in the Faro/Poker table version that brought $2,400. Codina said it had hung in a Tiburon, Calif., bar for a long time and it was purchased by the same collector who took the RFK button lot.
The sale’s top lot at $105,600 was a 1956 Facel Vega. Codina described it as a quasi-barn find, as it had been parked in a garage for more than 20 years, its last registration in 1985. The auctioneer said his colleagues found information indicating only 74 1956 Vega FV2-B models were ever produced. It had a 5.4 liter 330 DeSoto Firedome Hemi engine with 255 horsepower.
“It was a second owner car,” Codina said, “And purportedly once owned by Joey Bishop, though I found no evidence to support that. The owner garaged it in San Jose. We flat bedded it to San Francisco, cleaned it, inspected it. I feel pretty good about the result, $105,600 is a respectable amount of money for a car that will need to be restored.”
At least two things in the sale were either headed or actually in the garbage before the auction house sold them for four-figure sums.
An “Oaks” Newcomb pottery tile measuring 9½ by 6 inches would sell for $6,875. It was framed with the original backing bearing a Newcomb Pottery sticker. “That tile came from a prominent San Francisco family,” Codina said. “We cleared out one of their storage lockers. The owners had gone through the lockers before we got there and they had thrown a bunch of stuff away. We poked through the garbage a little bit and found that tile. One of our staff said ‘I think we can sell this,’ and she said, ‘That’s trash, just keep it.’ It was on its way to the dump, I think she’ll be quite pleased.”
The other was a Georgian garnet, pearl and yellow gold necklace that was more than 200 years old. The necklace came in its fitted box marked “Munday, Ct. Portland St., London, W,” and sold for $1,680.
“We were going over things and the customer had my garbage can pulled out and was going to toss it because it was broken,” said Holly Anderson-Pree, the auction house’s jewelry and watch specialist. “As a lover of antique jewelry, my head was about to pop off. It was special, we don’t often see the original box, but you also don’t see jewelry of this age very often. It’s just going to have issues if its 200 years old. We offered it in pieces, people came to look at it, and it wound up with someone who will restore it.”
Victorian jewelry also did well, Anderson-Pree noted. Two Edwardian necklaces in one lot, one featuring a platinum topped and 14K gold backing with a design of trailing leaves and flowers accented with old European cut diamonds on a platinum chain, the other a matching diamond drop pendant with a 14K gold chain. The group brought $1,500.
Top among the jewelry lots at $36,000 was an 8.22-carat fancy light yellow diamond set in an 18K yellow gold and platinum ring with kite-shape and round brilliant accent diamonds. It came with a GIA certificate and sold to a collector.
Codina noted a trend in costume jewelry as works by fashion houses were surprisingly strong.
“We had a couple of decent Yves Saint Laurent items, really just scrap metal and glass, but they sold really well,” he said.
Among them was a gold-toned bib necklace featuring glass cabochons that sold for $1,125. A suite featuring ear clips, bracelet and necklaces comprised of large acrylic “hematite” elements sold for $875. A Chanel pate de verre glass and gold-toned cross necklace sold for $1,920.
All prices include buyer’s premium. For information, 415-419-5012 or www.finesf.com.
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