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Fox 5 DC February 2016

FALLS CHURCH, Va. – The Howard Wolverton Collection of Black Americana featuring artifacts and treasures of Black American history will be auctioned off Thursday in Falls Church. The collection includes items reminiscent of our country’s shameful past of hatred and racism. Jacob Johnson is the conservator and the appraiser of this collection. “The collection originated in East Orange, New Jersey,” he explained. “It originated with Howard Wolverton, who was a history teacher for predominately black students in high school there.” This collection contains more than 2,000 relics ranging from books and photos along with chains and branding irons that might be a little more difficult for people to absorb. “There are items that I have a difficult time dealing with,” said Johnson. “The shackles, the branding iron – I have a difficult time with those things. It is important because that is American history. It is the dark side of American history that many people would not accept and want to forget. But guess what? It’s part of history and we should be proud of our history. We are Americans.” For some, these items can bring out a lot of emotion. “I see people who almost draw tears,” Johnson said. “When you see how somebody was shackled, it brings tears to some people’s eyes. Can you imagine being branded with a branding iron? It’s horrific.” The pieces in this collection date from the late 1700s to the 1960s. “There are those people who don’t believe that these things should even exist any longer and there are those people who will buy them to destroy them,” Johnson told us. “It is very significant that we remember who built the country, how it was built, and it’s our history. It is everybody’s history. It is not just black people. It is American history and we cannot deny it.”

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Washington Post February 2016

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One look and you gasp.

There’s a postcard from Dover, Del., of a shirtless black man being whipped in front of a crowd of white boys and men.

“THIS IS THE WAY WE DO ’EM UP HERE,” the sender wrote on the back, amid the more standard postcard pleasantries of 1938.

There are heavy, iron handcuffs and their double-sided key.

A branding rod with the letter J. Both used on humans.

And there is sheet music for a jaunty tune called “There’ll Never Be A Coon Sit In The Presidential Chair.”

All of these items will be open to bidding at Quinn’s Auction Galleries in Virginia this week, part of a 2,000-piece collection of black Americana.

It’s a trend in the collecting world — buying up these Aunt Jemima cookie jars, pieces of the human slave trade and literature from our country’s shameful past.

Some people buy them to get them out of circulation, to prevent the children of today and adults of tomorrow from ever seeing the way we treated other humans. And to keep racists from having palpable totems of their twisted beliefs.

But like Nazi or Holocaust memorabilia, it’s complicated.

When Matthew Quinn, executive vice president of the auction house, asked his webmasters to post the collection they said, “ ‘We can’t post this stuff,’ ” he told me. “I told them we have to. This is our history.”

Yes, it’s our history — and it’s awful. But there’s one important lesson to history: We must never forget it.

And I’m not just talking about never forgetting the Big Baddies — plantation owners, human slave traders and the like. It’s easy to believe we’re nothing like them.

The items that are part of this collection — the caricature salt and pepper shakers, the cereal trading cards of awful slave scenes that kids got with their breakfast, the Currier & Ives prints ridiculing black Americans that were displayed on the walls of the turn-of-the-century everyman like Thomas Kincade prints are hung today — remind us how accepted such bile had been.

Racism ran — and still runs — through every thread of society.

“You can’t talk about it enough,” said Jacob B. Johnson III, the antiques dealer and appraiser who brought the collection to Quinn’s. “As a society, we can’t ever forget.”

Johnson was friends with the collector, Howard Wolverton, a New Jersey high school history teacher who used the memorabilia as part of his curriculum.

“He was a white man who believed in teaching American history — all of it,” Johnson said.

Ignoring how casually America ridiculed and belittled black Americans — from household products with the N-word in the name to home decor that celebrated slavery — isn’t telling the whole story, Wolverton believed.

And his collection is an amazing, cross-class indictment of America’s original sin.

“None of this was made to be collected,” Quinn said. “Whether we like it or not, it’s American culture on display.”

And along with the despicable, the collection has the celebratory, which itself becomes sad.

Wolverton, who died in 2005, had what may be the only surviving tintype — like a metal photo — of William Tillman.

Never heard of him?

That’s part of America’s racism, too.

Tillman was one of the Civil War’s great maritime heroes. He was a steward and cook aboard the merchant schooner S.J. Waring when it was boarded by confederate privateers. Being the only crew member allowed to walk freely (they needed his help), Tillman staged a one-man attack in the dead of night to kill the pirate captain and turn the ship around, back to New York.

His valor got him a $6,000 reward from the government, newspaper accolades and a spot in P.T. Barnum’s show, where he regaled his heroism.

If a white man pulled that kind of coup, we’d be driving on roads named after him.

There’s also plenty of original material from Thomas “Blind Tom” Wiggins, the musical prodigy who composed “The Battle of Manassas” and wowed Americans, including Mark Twain, with his astonishing musical genius. He could perfectly mimic any sound, he learned Beethoven’s 3rd Concerto in one afternoon, then played the entire piece with his back to the piano — treble with his left hand, bass with his right. In his shows, he would play “Fisher’s Hornpipe” with one hand, “Yankee Doodle” with the other, all while also singing “Dixie.”

Never heard of him either?

Yes, forgetting, ignoring and sometimes erasing the strength, heroics, bravery and fortitude of black Americans is also part of America’s continuing racism today.

And how different, really, is the 1938 public whipping in Delaware from the videos we see on a regular basis of black Americans beaten, harassed and killed by police officers today? Or the racist song of Oklahoma frat boys — “There will never be a N-word in SAE”? Or the Arizona girls who thought it would be funny to spell the N-word out on their T-shirts? We’ve already forgotten.

Author credit: Petula Dvorak

Featured in the Washington Post on Tuesday, February 16, 2016. See the original post here.

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Upcoming Ethnographic Art Auction: October 24, 2015


We’ve got an exciting Ethnographic Art Auction planned for Saturday, October 24, 2015 at 11:00am in our Falls Church location.

Quinn’s has assembled an amazing cross-section of Ethnographic and Tribal Art including African, Oceanic, Pre-Columbian Pottery & Gold, Textiles, Native American Pottery & Kachina Dolls, and much more.

Preview is available:
Saturday, October 17th: 10:00am – 2:00pm
Monday, October 19th: 10:00am-5:00pm
Tuesday, October 20th: 10:00am-6:00pm
Wednesday, October 21st: 10:00am-6:00pm
Thursday, October 22nd: 10:00am-6:00pm
Friday, October 23rd: 10:00am-4:30pm
Saturday, October 24th: 9:00am-11:00am

See the auction catalog by clicking here.

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iGavel Auction: Fall 2015


September 24, 2015 – October 8, 2015 **This auction is online only


Preview Available Wednesday, Oct.1, 11:00 AM- 6:00 PM
Monday, Oct.5, 11:00 AM- 5:00 PM
Tuesday, Oct.6, 11:00 AM- 5:00 PM
Wednesday, Oct.7, 11:00 AM- 6:00 PM
Thursday, Oct.8, 10:00 AM- 12:00 PM

See the entire catalog by clicking here.

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Washington Post, September 2015

In rare papers up for auction, Jackie Kennedy makes an inscrutable heroin joke


Jackie Kennedy is known for her elegant, tasteful transformation of the White House interiors, but a new cache of papers up for auction offers a rare peek at the nitty gritty aspects of prettying up the presidential digs — as well as the former first lady’s wicked sense of humor.

In letters, drawings, and other items being sold by Virginia-based Quinn’s Auction Galleries mostly from the estate of James Bernard West, the Camelot-era White House chief usher who died in 1983, Kennedy shows an attention to the aesthetics of even the humblest working spaces. In one missive, she instructs West to make changes to make the press room look tidier, including possibly adding shelves and trash cans for the sloppy men of the Fourth Estate — though the first lady admitted it was an uphill battle. “That room will never be ideal as they leave their cubbys messy,” she said of the scribes.

Letters cover mundane details, from the kinds of trash cans she wants in public areas to the positioning of dog beds and light fixtures, with the occasional flash of the first lady’s gently acerbic wit. In the West Foyer, for example, Kennedy asks West to remove a gold trophy: “it looks like the prize one would give to a lady driving champion,” she writes.

Another moment of Kennedy’s levity comes in a watercolor poster (estimated to draw as much as $3,000) she made for West in 1971, well after the family’s departure from the White House. In honor of West’s visit to the family’s home in New York, Kennedy drew a faux “wanted” sign advertising for a chief usher for their Manhattan digs. Among the duties of the job — those presumably those handled by West during the family’s White House years — included “waltz,” “bulldoze,” “winetaste,” “intercept dignitaries” and “forge signatures.”

And then another task that sounds like some kind of inside joke: “take resident kindergarten on field trip to heroin withdrawal center.” Hmm.

Matt Quinn, Executive Vice President of the auction company, says that while there is plenty of Kennedy memorabilia out there, many of the pieces on the auction block offer a rare, intimate look at the storied family. “To find something that’s this personal — it’s an honor,” he says.

The auction takes place online and live in Quinn’s in Falls Church on Thursday night.

This article was originally featured in the Washington Post on September 9, 2015. Source credit: Emily Heil is the co-author of the Reliable Source and previously helped pen the In the Loop column with Al Kamen.

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Japanese Art Auction in Falls Church: September 2015


Japanese Art Auction: Wednesday, September 9, 2015 at 6pm

*please note, this auction will take place at our Falls Church location. For directions click here.

See the catalog here.

Preview Available:

Saturday, September 5, 2015: 10:00am – 2:00pm
Sunday, September 6, 2015: Appointment Only – 10:00am-2:00pm
Monday, September 7, 2015: Appointment Only – 10:00am-2:00pm
Tuesday, September 8, 2015: 10:00am – 7:00pm
Wednesday, September 9, 2015: 10:00am – 6:00pm
** appointments must be made by Friday, September 4, 2015 by 2:00pm
Phone bidding service provided, with limited Chinese (Mandarin) speaking phone bidding available.

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Waverly Rare Books Catalog Auction in Falls Church: September 2015


Waverly Rare Books Catalog Auction: Thursday, September 10, 2015 at 6pm

*please note, this auction will take place at our Falls Church location. For directions click here.

See the catalog here.
Preview Available:

Monday, August 31st – Friday, September 4th: 10am-5pm (by appointment)
Saturday, September 5th: 10am – 4:00pm
Monday, September 7th: by appointment only
Tuesday, September 8th: 10am – 7pm
Wednesday, September 9th: 10am – 7pm
Thursday, September 10th: 10am – 6pm

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