Weschler’s places things deemed valuable, including antique furniture, oriental rugs, and art, toward the front of the auction room. I am struck by the similarity of the items on display from one week to the next. These people had lived in the same era, and they had collected the sorts of things that people apparently wanted in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. I come across odd things among the effects of former military officers that were on display in my military family’s home, like a Japanese clay Hakata doll and an elaborately embossed camel saddle from Northern Africa.
As you walk to the rear of the building, the items become more mundane until you reach tables strewn with kitchenware, old tools, ancient stereo equipment and empty picture frames. There are walkers, canes, and other accouterments of the aged. Boxes of these items will sell for a few dollars, if at all. For visitors like me who contemplate the lives of the former owners, these are the most poignant items.
The piles contain signed photographs of long-dead politicians or other senior government functionaries, college diplomas, countless awards and “certificates of appreciation,” honorable discharges, amateurish oil paintings of dogs or children and, sadly, scrapbooks and albums of family photos. It is a wonder that such ephemera survived as long as it did, much longer than the unidentified people who smile from the past.
Why are long-lived and once cherished items now here? Anyone who has dispersed a deceased parent’s belongings knows the painful decisions that must be made — what to keep and what to let go. But, how does a family scrapbook so lovingly compiled and so full of history find this end? Did the fog of grief allow it to slip away unnoticed? Was there no one left to care?
Among the detritus relegated to the rear are the books, laid out in long rows, spines up, on folding tables. The people whose effects end up here were remarkably well-read. More than the furniture and art, these books tell a story about their owners.
There are out-of-date college texts, law and medical books, collections of novels with titles spanning decades, history books and biographies, particularly of politicians and other Washington figures. There are also books on every conceivable interest, collecting furniture, art, horses, boats, cars, cooking and subjects that might make you blush.