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Washington’s Top News, March 2015

A collection of Martin Luther King mementoes goes on sale

An impressive collection of items related to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. will go up for auction in Falls Church on Thursday, just ahead of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights marches in Selma, Alabama.

UPDATE – March 12, 2015 7:55 pm

WASHINGTON — The auction has closed and the 16 items sold for a total of $99,668.

The LBJ condolence letter to Coretta Scott King sold for $60,000, twice the price of the highest auction sale of a President Johnson signature.

EARLIER: March 6, 2015 1:28 am

WASHINGTON — An impressive collection of items related to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. will go up for auction in Falls Church, Virginia on Thursday, March 12.

The items are owned by Stoney and Shirley Cooks, of Hyattsville, Maryland, who were both involved in the civil rights movement. Stoney was a college student in Indiana when he became part of a delegation of students who decided to travel to Selma for the march, whose 50th anniversary was celebrated last weekend.

“Two days after Bloody Sunday, Stoney Cooks with three white people were driving through Alabama, just like we were free and cavalier. I say it was the dumbest thing I’ve ever done, you know — a black guy, riding south, heading to Selma, oblivious to all that was going on,” Stoney told WTOP.

Stoney thought he would be in the South for a week, but he never returned to college. He wound up working with King as a staffer at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

“SCLC was a movement. There was no librarian, no one trying to get a copy of everything for SCLC’s history,” he said. So he began collecting things, including handwritten notes of King’s that are about to be sold.

The item the Cooks are selling that is getting the most attention is a letter many would probably assume is on display in a museum. It’s the letter President Lyndon Johnson sent Coretta Scott King after her husband was assassinated.

Written April 5, 1968, on White House stationery, it includes this pledge: “We will overcome this calamity and continue the work of justice and love that is Martin Luther King’s legacy and trust to us.” The letter was given to Shirley Cooks by her brother, singer and activist Harry Belafonte.

Asked why they chose not to donate it to a museum, Stoney said, “Our conclusion was the auction is the best approach.”

But he added: “This document would be nice — the Johnson document — if it ended up at a major institution (such as) the new African-American Museum (under construction in D.C.) or the Johnson Library in Texas.”

The auction, by Quinn’s Auction Galleries in Falls Church, had been scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. Thursday, March 5, but because of the snow, it has been moved to 6 p.m. Thursday, March 12.

“The Lyndon Johnson letter is estimated at $120,000 to $180,000,” says Matthew Quinn. “Bidding will start at $60,000 and go from there. We do have interest from institutions, from private individuals, and only Thursday night will tell.” “We have the opportunity to sell valuable objects all the time, but to be able to hold a piece of history in our hands — it’s very humbling.”

Among other items to be sold is a guest book from King’s wake at Spelman College. Quinn estimates its value at between $4,000 and $6,000.

“It’s probably one of the more compelling items and it’s really hard to come up with an estimate for an object that really isn’t signed by anybody significant. There’s no title page to it; there’s nothing telling us that this is what it is. It’s an object of great magnitude, but it’s hard to put a number on that. The bidders will certainly be the ones to tell us what that’s worth.”

Original article found here.

Author credit: Michelle Basch

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Washington Post, September 2014

Auction action: A 1960 guitar with a D.C.- area history fetches a pretty penny

Lots of people figured the 54-year-old Gibson Les Paul electric guitar would fetch more than its $20,000 to $30,000 pre-auction estimate, but no one knew how much more.

The answer: a lot. Two Saturdays ago, Gil Southworth Jr. paid $140,000 for the guitar I wrote about recently. Add in the premium paid to Quinn’s Auction Galleries in Falls Church and the price tag came to $165,200. Why, with that money, Gil could have bought 1,652 brand-new $100 ukuleles (a sobering thought).

Gil is from Bethesda. He’s a guitar dealer, owner of Southworth Guitars, which had a shop on MacArthur Boulevard and then Old Georgetown Road before moving to the Web. His customers have included Eric Clapton, George Harrison and Tom Petty.

“I’ve bought and sold almost 100 original Sunburst Les Pauls, but I’m a nut for them, too,” said Gil, 58. “I’m my own worst customer, being a collector-dealer. I could probably sell this guitar right now and make a good piece of change on it. But I’m paralyzed by the terrifying beauty of it. My intention is to keep it.”

Gil said he was drawn to this one for a couple of reasons. It’s actually painted in “chocolate sunburst” colors, a rarer finish than regular sunburst. More importantly, it’s an exceptionally local guitar: purchased for $320 at Giant Music in Falls Church by a teenage Harry Ryan, played in a Northern Virginia band, and stored for decades under Harry’s bed before he decided to auction it.

HANDOUT PHOTO:   Harry Ryan (left) and Gil Southworth, Jr., with the 1960 Gibson Les Paul Sunburst guitar that Gil had just bought at auction at Quinn's Auction Galleries in Falls Church, Va., on Sept. 13, 2014. Harry is the guitar's original owner. It went for $140,000.   (Courtesy of Quinn's Auction Galleries)

Harry Ryan (left) and Gil Southworth, Jr., with the 1960 Gibson Les Paul Sunburst guitar that Gil had just bought at auction at Quinn’s Auction Galleries in Falls Church, Va., on Sept. 13, 2014. Harry is the guitar’s original owner. It went for $140,000.
(Courtesy of Quinn’s Auction Galleries)

“I don’t recall ever buying one that I knew was bought new at a store in the D.C. area,” Gil said. “Of all the ones I’ve bought — and I’ve bought them all over the world — just to buy one that had that localness really turned me on.”

A self-described “guitar pinhead,” Gil has been getting turned on by vintage musical gear since he was a 10th-grader at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda. He’d mow the occasional lawn or shovel snow for cash, then peruse the teen swap column in the Evening Star newspaper. One day, Gil noticed that someone was selling a Fender Tremolux head — part of a guitar amplifier — for $50, half of what that typically went for. He bought it, then sold it for $90 — his first transaction.

“Oh lawnmower, see you later, man,” Gil said with a laugh. He next bought a 1963 Gibson ES330 for $100 and sold it for $145.

Every penny Gil made was reinvested in guitars to flip. He was “a guitar shark” after that.

“I was always just a psycho,” he said. High school friends would ask whether he would be going to that weekend’s kegger, and he’d have to tell them, “No, I gotta go to Baltimore to get this blue [Gibson] SG.”

There was a time when vintage guitars went for crazy money, sold to baby boomers flush with cash and eager to emulate their rock-and-roll heroes. Mint condition Les Paul Sunbursts were fetching close to $400,000. Then in 2007, the bottom fell out of the market.

“Everybody was so heartbroken,” Gil said. Not him.

“Not that I didn’t lose money on about 150 guitars. I sold guitars for eight grand that I paid 15 and 16 grand for in the bubble. That was a little tiresome. But I was thinking: ‘You know what? Too bad the bubble broke. But I’m only in it for 50 bucks.’

“I paid 50 bucks for the Tremolux head, and I never took a job after that.”

Gil has a coincidental connection to the Les Paul’s previous owner. His mother, Dorothy, and sister, Barbara, both worked at the Army Map Service, where Harry Ryan worked.

Gil’s new purchase has a few issues. The original pickups were removed, and the frets are worn down. Gil will fix that. In the manner of an art restorer, he will take fret wires from a 1959 or 1960 Gibson Melody Maker guitar — he owns about 45 — and transplant them to the Les Paul.

And he owns guitars equipped with the desirable “Patent Applied For” humbucking pickups that were originally in the Les Paul but were swapped out years ago.

“I don’t like to take parts off of one guitar and put them on another, but that is what’s going to have to happen,” Gil said. “One of my guitars is going to have to take it for the team. I just haven’t decided which one.”

When he’s done all that, the guitar will sing again.

Original article found here.

Author credit: John Kelly

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