Published: June 25, 2019
Frank Kaminski was about 7 years old when his parents bought a house in Stoneham, Mass., that had belonged to a Spanish American War veteran. They proceeded to throw out trunks of memorabilia that had belonged to the veteran. In spite of their son’s repeated requests not to just throw it all away, they did. But seeing that old stuff fascinated their son, who began going to yard sales, cleaning out cellars and attics for neighbors, gradually learning the history of the stuff he was seeing and bringing home. By the age of ten, with the help of his mother, he was doing flea markets and learned that he could make money buying and selling. He went to night school and took classes, learning about antiques and fine art. He conducted his first auction in his parents’ backyard at the age of 17 and hasn’t stopped since. The company now has offices in West Palm Beach, Fla., as well as Santa Barbara and Palm Springs, Calif., and Kaminski now conducts a two-day sale every month at his Beverly, Mass., gallery.
Tell us about your first “celebrity” auction
That would be the sale we did for Oprah Winfrey in 2013, at the Santa Barbara Polo and Racquet Club. Oprah was remodeling her homes and wanted to dispose of some antiques, artwork and furniture. She promoted the sale heavily and we had more than 4,000 people preview the sale, our website had more than 200,000 hits, 7,500 bidders registered, and we raised more than $600,000 for the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy Foundation College Fund. It was a fantastic experience. Oprah loved it; she signed items for buyers and sold a few items from the podium. I remember that she said, “I was a reluctant auctioneer at first, but I wound up having a blast.” I learned a great lesson from her: she really micromanaged that event, which taught me to do that for all my sales.
You came home from the Oprah sale with something special, didn’t you?
You’re referring to my wife, Joi. Yes, we met while I was out there working on the sale. I met her mother while applying for all the permits I needed from the city and she introduced me to Joi, who asked me to take a look at some Oriental rugs for a friend. We had coffee together one day, and then dinner, and we really hit it off. We’ve been married for five years now. I’m a lucky guy.
More recently, you sold many of Martha Stewart’s things?
Last year, we sold more than 5,000 items that Martha Stewart had used to help create the “Martha Stewart” look. We sold props that she used on her television programs. There were tables, chairs, planters, tons of glassware, kitchen accessories and more. Martha autographed several of the items for us. It would have been fun to have her sell some of the things from the podium as Oprah did, but we couldn’t make that happen. The PR was great for us.
Tell us about the highest priced items you’ve sold.
That would have to be a group of five Chinese scrolls that we sold in 2012 for $2.4 million. They came from a home in San Bernadino, Calif., and were being disposed of by descendents of the man who had been interim president of Peking University from 1914 to 1917. Two rice bowls that came from the home brought $300,000. They were in a pile of stuff that the family was about to donate to an Amvets thrift store. I knew the scrolls and the bowls were good, but I didn’t expect those kinds of prices. The provenance really helped with those pieces, as he knew many of the artists. Auctioneers need a hit like that every couple of years.
What’s next for the business?
I’ve no doubt that more and more business will be done via the internet. I joke with my customers that someday it won’t be me at the podium, it will be a hologram. I don’t have a crystal ball. I know that there are plenty of buyers out there for decent material and that if we work hard enough, we can find what they want.
How did you come to meet President and Mrs Carter?
My wife’s mother was heavily involved in Democratic party politics in California. She met Jimmy Carter before he was elected, when he was traveling the country meeting people. When she was introduced to him, she said, “Who are you? A peanut farmer from Georgia?” They became friends and after Joi’s mother died, President Carter called her to express his condolences. He invited us to visit him at his Presidential Library in Atlanta. It’s a very impressive place. He and Rosalynn were very friendly and that’s when we took the pictures.
June 5, 2023
May 30, 2023
May 23, 2023
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm