Newsletter #99

September 11, 1999

Greetings Accumulators!
For those of you who are AOL subscribers, this may be your first newsletter in a while. I had no idea that many AOLers weren't receiving the newsletter, but a couple of Alert Accumulators wrote to complain and one, Sherry, was kind enough to put me in touch with someone at AOL who solved the problem. So, welcome back! The fog has finally lifted here in NYC and it's a bright sunny day. To my fellow members of the Hebrew Persuasion, Happy and Healthy New Year.

"Antiques and The Arts Weekly" reports this week that a jury in Fresno, CA. has struck a blow against the sale of stolen antiques. It seems that one James Mello, a serious collector of John Henry Belter furniture, had amassed a world-class collection. In fact, his accumulation of the ornately carved pieces was considered to be one of only six major collections in the world. The current going rate for a Belter piece is in the $25,000 to $100,000 range. In late 1996 or early 1997, a good part of Mr. Mello's collection was stolen from a storage facility. The stolen pieces were later purchased by a Mr. David Varley and a Mr. Jack Alvernaz for $27,000 (could they have believed they were getting the world's most fabulous bargain?). The two took photographs of the furniture to the Pettigrew Auction Company of Colorado. Pettigrew was anxious to buy the furniture outright, but Alvernaz and Varley refused, instead consigning the Belters to be sold at the auction house, with total estimates amounting to somewhere between $175,000 and $275,000. Well, when Mello got wind of the upcoming auction, he contacted Pettigrew, as did other Belter collectors and the Ripon, CA Police Department (Mello's storage facility was in Ripon), and asked them not to sell the stolen items. Larry Kemper and Gary Lockhart, owners of the auction company, refused to stop the auction, and Varley and Alvernez refused to withdraw the items from the sale.

The Belters were auctioned off, and brought a total of less than $150,000. "Antiques and The Arts Weekly" seems to think this was because other Belter collectors were aware of the shady past of the furniture, and so bidding was low. Mello sued the auction house, its principals and the two consignors. Their defense was that Mello had to prove the furniture was his. They never said it wasn't, but they said the burden of proof was his. Fair enough. They had misjudged the concentration of a dedicated collector. Mello was able to identify details of the pieces, including minor defects and repairs, and the jury found in his favor. In July, the court awarded Mello a judgment against the defendants in the amount of $915,000, including $300,000 for the value of the furniture, $15,000 for emotional damage, and $600,000 in punitive damages. The auction house has filed a motion asking that the punitive damages be reduced, but that is not likely to happen, according to an attorney for the plaintiff. Now, back to those Belter collectors who bid so low in the auction: if they were so outraged at the shady past of the furniture, why did they bid at all? Or did they see it as an opportunity to buy well below market prices? Or did they just decide not to risk too much money, in case the stolen furniture had to be returned to its rightful owner? Hmmm.

Have a hankering to enhance the Elvis impression you do in front of the bathroom mirror every morning? Think maybe the King's own cape might do it for you? Here's your chance to acquire that all important fantasy-enhancing prop, and you can do it online. On October 8th through 10th, will be taking bids on the "Burning Love" cape Elvis wore in the 1972 documentary "Elvis On Tour", along with 2,000 other neat pieces of Kingobilia, like his first RCA Records contract or a pair of his gold sunglasses. Proceeds from the auction, called the "Elvis Presley Archival Memorabilia Auction", will go toward the construction of Presley Place, a housing devlopment in Memphis. It is planned as a temporary facility for homeless people, which will offer day care, job training and counseling to assist them in climbing out of poverty. To see the items, or to bid, go to Elvis Auction.

Most large cities have Lost and Found departments in their public buildings. These tend to accumulate pretty mundane stuff, like umbrellas, books, sweaters, etc. But in Phoenix, the Phoneix Transit Lost and Found has a vast collection of something else: prosthetic body parts. In fact, Raul Quinonez, the man in charge, says there are enough spare parts to build more than one person. There are glass eyes, arms and legs galore, and Mr. Quinonez can't figure out how people could leave them behind on the bus.

Late September: Kellogg's Special K cereal, for the third straight year, will feature the WNBA champions on its cereal box. Houston Comets players Cynthia Cooper, Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson will be on the front, and the whole team on the back of the box, available at selected retailers
Sept. 17th: A new postage stamp honoring "Star Trek" will be issued as part of the salute to the 1960s. It is one of 15 stamp subjects chosen by the public. All the stamps will be issued on the same day, in Green Bay, WI.

So, Accumulators, we come to the end of another newsletter. Artie and I are headed out to my Mom's for the second evening of the Rosh Hashonah holiday. And tomorrow, I'm headed back down to Virginia Beach, Virginia, to do this week's "Treasures In Your Home" on the PAX-TV Network. For those of you who are just rejoining us: you can find out if you get PAX by going to their website at Pax-TV. If you don't get the network, don't despair. You can still see the show live on the Internet by going to the show's website at Treasures In Your Home

Have a wonderful week, Accumulators. Happy hunting!


1999 Judith Katz-Schwartz. All rights reserved.
Antiques and Collectibles Newsletter #99
U.S. Library of Congress
ISSN 1520-4464


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1999 Judith Katz-Schwartz. All rights reserved.