Remarkable Antique Finds
Blow the attic dust off that old relic
Go ahead, admit it. Sometimes you dream it could happen to you. Yes, of course, you understand full well Lady Luck is a fickle mistress, that good fortune is nothing to bank on. They won’t catch you at the casinos or waiting in line for a lottery ticket. Your preferred investment strategy is straightforward indexing and bonds with triple-A ratings.
Every once in a while, though, perhaps while flicking through channels, you pause a moment on PBS’s Antiques Roadshow. As Edgar and Connie from Damariscotta discover the strange old tuba they found in their uncle’s attic may have once been the property of John Philip Sousa and worth enough to pay their grandson’s college tuition, you recall your last visit to the attic and the wheels of your mind start to turn.
It does really happen, too. Paul Provost, senior vice president and director of estates, trusts and appraisals at the international auction house Christie’s, remembers the time someone came in with a painting found at a rummage sale they thought might be worth something. It turned out the painting was by Martin Johnson Heade, an early-American painter, and worth $882,500.
“From a realistic point of view, this sort of thing often gets a great deal of press and may get some people too excited,” Provost warns, noting that Christie’s gets hundreds of queries daily and he, in fact, doesn’t do appraisals himself. “Most people have a sense of the value of the items they have, and usually when they don’t, it’s because they think the item is worth more than it actually is. But sometimes you do hit the jackpot.”
The following is a selection of Gold Coast residents for whom that jackpot turned out to be more than the stuff of dreams.
I'd be surprisingly good for you
Simon Teakle didn’t know what he was in for when he flew a hemisphere away from his Old Greenwich home in the summer of 1997.
“The fax I got just said I would be meeting with a very secretive gentleman who lives outside Buenos Aires, to look at ‘a very interesting piece’ that he knows will be worth my while,” he recalls.
The unflappable Teakle didn’t bat an eye. His job then as head of Christie’s jewelry department required frequent travel to distant places, one reason he prefers working today at Betteridge Jewelers on Greenwich Avenue, a smaller locale with often-amazing stories of its own. (“I’m right now looking for a rare blue diamond for a customer, and one of the leading gem dealers in the world is after it as well. This is a very competitive market.”) But there was something especially unusual about this errand from the moment he met his mysterious contact. “He was in this room that had this big black table with nothing on it but a piece of white cloth,” Teakle remembers. “I knew immediately whatever was under that cloth was what I was there to see.”
Teakle radiates English charm, from his shoulder-length rock-star mane to his insistence on pronouncing the I in “mobile phone” to his delight in telling the story of his remarkable find in unrushed detail as he strokes his chin in Betteridge’s posh second-floor viewing room, festooned with bright salvers and Edwardian illustrations.
When he finally got a peek at the mysterious guest’s holdings, he saw a sapphire-and-diamond brooch by Van Cleef & Arpels, made with invisible settings to resemble an Argentine flag. Its owner said his father had acquired it years before at an auction, and that it had been designed especially for the legendary First Lady of Argentina, Eva Peron.
The mysterious contact figured on a cool quarter-million dollars for the piece. Teakle wasn’t sure. “In terms of raw, intrinsic value, that was way too much,” he says, noting that national flags are hardly typical evening wear. Still, Teakle knew it was an exciting piece with a unique history. Not wanting to hose the owner’s spirits down, he agreed to terms that seemed possible, even likely. But Teakle suggested they price the brooch more conservatively at auction as a way of drawing more bidders. The man agreed.
Then came the truly amazing part of the story. First, Teakle settled the always-delicate question of provenance; while leafing through a tome on Argentine estancias in a San Francisco bookstore, he discovered a photograph of Evita wearing the flag brooch. Then, while showing the piece in South America’s jet-set mecca, Punta del Este in Uruguay, Teakle made the acquaintance of an Argentine celebrity every bit as outsized as the brooch’s original owner: Susana Giménez, a variety-show hostess whose revolving romances have kept Buenos Aires gossip writers happily employed for three decades.
“She looks at the brooch and just bursts into tears,” Teakle says, still amazed at the spectacle as he replays it in his head. “She said, ‘This is an Argentine national treasure, and it’s my destiny to bring it back for the people.’ ”
So when it came time for the auction in New York City the following spring, there was Susana, camera crew at her side. Bidding started conservatively but quickly escalated as Susana worked her auction paddle and blonde mojo for the camera crew and a Manhattan audience totally won over by her theatricality. “Every time she raised the bid, the audience cheered,” Teakle says. “Then, when this other bidder who was on the phone raised the bid, they booed.”
Teakle was, of course, cheering for both of them. Finally, the man on the phone bid $992,500, at which point Susana fled the auction room in tears, camera crew in tow. Later she confessed her relief to Teakle. Meanwhile, somewhere in the United States, a woman found herself with a twenty-fifth wedding anniversary present that works out to about $40,000 for every year of matrimony.
“It was a combination of pure luck, chance and drama,” Teakle concludes. “It just shows you can never put a value on human emotion. After that, I got a number of calls from people saying they had jewelry owned by Eva Peron. But you can never re-create that. The time’s passed, and you move on.”
John Reznikoff pulls the tarpaulin off the car he has parked in a Westport garage, revealing a bone-white 1963 Lincoln Continental. A few years ago, he bought it for $17,500 from the inventory of a defunct establishment in Florida called the Museum of National Tragedy; now he expects to sell it for one million dollars.
For the complete story, please see the November issue of Greenwich Magazine.