Published: January 9, 2018
By R. Scudder Smith
NEWTOWN, CONN. — It was dubbed “Everybody’s Auction,” and rightly so. For credit has to be given, spread high and low, for an event townspeople poured their hearts into and the Red Cross came away the winner. We speak of the benefit auction conducted on Friday, August 2, 1940, in the gymnasium of the Edmond Town Hall. A public preview was conducted from 11 am to 1 pm that day; the auction was scheduled to run from 1 to 5:30 pm and again from 7 to 10 pm, with a break for a boxed supper in between for $4.
But why is this news after a lapse of 77 years and is The Newtown Bee having to dig back into the past to fill its pages? Neither is correct. In fact, a Christmas gift brought this auction back into the light and stirred up many names from the past, people who then were watching out for others much as townspeople are doing today.
In June 2017, Nadeau Auctions offered a framed poster at one of its sales promoting the auction mentioned above. It showed a collection of antiques, including a tall case clock, a ladder-back chair, a pottery pitcher, a small chest of drawers and a Red Cross nurse seated with a child in her lap.
What makes this poster of value is the artist, a man named Rea Irvin, born August 26, 1881, in San Francisco and who died May 28, 1972, in the Virgin Islands. For a portion of his lifetime he resided in Newtown, on Irvin Lane off Sawmill Road, and, as a graphic designer, served de facto as the first art editor of The New Yorker and created the Eustace Tilley cover portrait and The New Yorker typeface.
Following the Nadeau auction, this poster showed up next at the New England Motel & Antiques Show, one of several markets at the antiques week in Brimfield, Mass., where Greg Smith, a member of the editorial staff of Antiques and The Arts Weekly, was taking photographs and reviewing the event. He picked up the framed poster, turned it over, and found himself looking at an ad for the auction that had appeared in The Newtown Bee, along with a news article and photo promoting the auction. “There is no question as to where this piece of Newtown history should go,” Greg said, as he and wife Daina presented the poster to his grandfather, this writer – R. Scudder Smith – on Christmas Eve.
According to the 1940 review in The Newtown Bee, starting with a front page picture of Wilton Lackaye, the town’s popular auctioneer who lived in the center of Sandy Hook, holding the poster and looking for bids, the auction ended in the wee hours of the morning after 689 lots had crossed the block for a total of $2,026.05 for the Red Cross War Relief Fund. That total, adjusted for inflation, would be $35,424.91 today. Mr Lackaye noted, at the end of the auction, that the several hundred people who attended were more than willing to bid and support the theme of the auction, “Trade An Antique For A Life.”
Residents from many walks of life donated time and talent to this auction, all headed by Mrs Peter Lawson, chairman; Mrs Chandler Mackey, vice chairman; H. Carlton Hubbell, treasurer; and Wilton Lackaye, auctioneer. The Advisory Board included Mrs Charles H. Peck, Mrs Nelson Curtis, Arthur T. Nettleson, Alfred C. Howell, Paul S. Smith, and Rea Irvin.
The seed for this auction was planted by Howard Bliss who “perfected the necessary details” and collected many of the items that were offered for sale. Among the pieces listed in one of the advance advertisements included a set of six signed Hitchcock chairs, a blue and cream footed tea pot purported to have been the property of Charles I of England, two Boston rockers, several fine bureaus, a maple cord bed, Franklin stove, beautiful four-poster bed, fine tables, French prints, Currier & Ives prints, tapestries, early American glass both pressed and blown, fine china, lamps and many other interesting items.
As each piece was sold, Mrs William B. Bentley and Mrs Robert N. Camp handled the account books, while William Wallen, Ralph Pomeroy, Allen Pike, “Bobby” Reiner and the town’s well-known clock collector Jerry Jackson served as runners. Ready to fill in where needed were Mrs H.R. Wilde, Millicent Vello, Mary Siler, Patricia Diamond, Barbara Irvin, and Jean Lyngaas.
Hugh Quinn was seen driving his truck around town prior to the auction picking up many of the donations, and traffic on auction day was handled by William Blake, assisted by some Boy Scouts including Theodore Hamlin, Roland Geiger, Norval White, Dwight Carlson, and Gilbert Aiken. Mrs William Hunter served as chairman for the box suppers.
The Newtown Bee’s reporter noted that the great success of this benefit was due to the hearty cooperation that it received from everyone who helped out. The article ended by saying, “It was an event unique to Newtown and probably the first of its kind to be held in the country, giving prominence to Newtown on this account.”
So a poster that has traveled afar, has returned to its point of origin, full of pleasant memories.
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