If you want to experience great impromptu theater and a taste of luxury while finding bargains and daily necessities, visit our local auctions. My first experience in this sense was as a viewer at the Stuart Kingston Gallery auction in the 1970s, when I was lucky enough to live in an apartment in the Moore Building on Rehoboth Avenue. It was downtown above what was once Moore’s Pharmacy, then South Moon Under in the late 70’s, and has housed other stores since then.
On summer evenings, I walked the boardwalk in Rehoboth Beach, observing all the events that took place there long ago. They included the “Repent Man”, who walked along the boards shouting “Reee-pennt!”; maybe some of you, like me, are old enough to remember him. And a guy named Eddie spouting verbiage that, if you really listened, was actually quite intellectual. Dolle’s and all the other stores were lit up at night. At the north end of the promenade was Stuart Kingston, a resplendent gallery of oriental rugs, squatting Buddhas, glittering trays filled with jewels and other lavish objects.
Stuart Kingston was founded around 1930 by Maurice Stein and is now a third generation company run by Maurice’s granddaughter, Mauria (daughter of Maurice’s son Jay Stein). My first patroness was Maurice’s wife, the matriarch Anita Stein, one of those great ladies of Rehoboth. She bought my “Wash Day Blues” painting from the Rehoboth Art League. She hung it on her wall next to her NC Wyeth original, “The Opium Smoker,” an unexpected honor for me.
I used to visit him often. She would greet me in diamonds. I did paintings for his family, his friends and his maid, Ethel. She had two big Bouvier dogs, Oona and Philla, circling her blue swimming pool; I painted them 12 times! Back at the auction, I was mesmerized by the funny Frank Kennedy and his sidekick Irv Pine. Arms folded, he would start with small oriental rugs, of a size that would cover a toaster like a saddle, and occasionally small items like pens to whet one’s appetite for larger items later and for up the bidding process. Those warm summer nights under the lights with the boardwalk and the sounds of the ocean ringing out the doors now make me feel nostalgic.
These days you can find me at Emmert Auction, usually front row if I can find a spot. Emmert Auction Associates was founded in 1976 by the prominent Butch Emmert, who is now joined by his son, Will. Butch’s wife, Carol, presides over the recording of the sales. They love to sell, from small to large, and they know how to work with the crowd. You can find almost anything. Longaberger paintings and baskets, furniture, antique glass, cars and low-digit Delaware license plates. He sold number 6 for $675,000!
Their auctioneer, the very capable Herbie Kenton, gets things done quickly with wit and droll humor, hitting the gavel brilliantly. Friends and regulars populate the seats. Sometimes the auction takes place in their own gallery on the Forgotten Mile across from Spring Lake; other times it’s at the Convention Hall on Rehoboth Avenue, usually on Sundays, although it can also happen on Friday or Saturday afternoons.
Another interesting place to visit is Wilson’s Auction, if you want to venture west to Route 113 near Lincoln. It is owned by Senator Dave Wilson, who recently received a Jefferson Award for his good deeds to surrounding communities. A lovable man with the warm, honeyed voice of an auctioneer and sparkling blue eyes, Dave Wilson is quite the charmer.
He started out auctioning off lots of watermelons and producing as a young teenager at Spence’s Bazaar in Dover. He opened Wilson’s Auction in the mid-1970s. It’s a big place. An outdoor auction takes place on Saturday morning at the rear of the property. Rows of goods are available, with the auctioneer moving along the rows. Inside, there are myriad tables laden with lots of all kinds of items. Again, the tireless auctioneer advances until almost everything is sold.
At the end of the afternoon, there are still a few items that can be purchased for free. I myself have shamelessly found many frames for my paintings this way. At night there is a more formal auction. Even at the end of the afternoon, aficionados wait patiently in the armchairs lined up for the evening show. Once, I witnessed the sale of signed prints by Salvador Dali!
There are also weekly auto auctions and special holiday events. In the summer, huge fans cool the air, and in the winter, like the day I visited recently, an open-bellied stove opens its door to reveal crackling red-orange coals. I look forward to lunch at the Southern Grille snack bar in Ellendale. The usual fried chicken, hot dogs and cheeseburgers are on offer, along with local favorites like lima bean and meatball soup, and another Southern favourite, pretzel salad.
Yes, local auctions offer drama, wit, bargains, food and sometimes, as Dave Wilson said, “The thrill of scoring what you really, really want!”