March 25, 1996 in Nation/World

Bidding Farewell Widower Auctions Off Lifetime Of Antiques And Memories

Joseph W. Fenton Staff writer

People from all over the country bought bits and pieces of John George’s life Sunday at the Spokane Interstate Fairgrounds.

For nearly seven hours, auctioneer Mary Ann Duffey sold antiques that George and his wife, Chesia, had collected during their 65-year marriage.

With hands clenching his aluminum cane, the 91-year-old John George watched the spirited bidding from his front-row seat. Nearly 500 people jammed into the fairgrounds’ Floral Building for the auction.

Two Victorian wicker baby buggies went for $900. A doll dresser - smaller than a breadbox - sold for $325.

A cranberry-colored glass pickle caster? Not a penny less than $500. Antique salt and pepper shakers? Some fetched $200. Candlesticks? They ranged mostly from $200 to $400. Turn-of-the-century Navajo rugs? They brought thousands.

Big prices for a city where the median household income is only $22,000 a year.

But the George antique sale cast a wider net than Spokane or Eastern Washington.

The quality of the items drew antique dealers, doctors’ wives - and even a restaurateur from Jackson Hole, Wyo. Telephone bids flowed in from as far away as New Jersey.

“This is the highest-quality auction this town has seen,” boasted Duffey, who has known George for 15 years.

She pointed to 12 rare pieces of signed Galle cameo glass which fascinated a sea of bobbing heads during a two-hour preview Sunday.

“These are true antiques,” said Duffey, noting an old oak dental cabinet with velvet-lined swinging drawers. “There are no reproductions here.”

George and his wife collected antiques with ardor.

From their marriage in 1930 until Chesia George’s death last December, the Spokane couple spent vacations on the road collecting cut glass, furniture, paintings.

“We only missed four states,” George said of their antique-hunting trips. “It was my wife’s fantasy.”

A former cook at the Davenport Hotel and The Crescent department store, George said his wife filled the long hours he worked by collecting.

“I give her credit for picking a lot of this out,” he said. “When I look at it now, I never realized all she had. Of course, she wouldn’t have sold anything.”

With his wife gone, George said he decided to cull their collection. “It’s not something I had to do,” he said.

But he worries about his own health and the future of the antiques.

George has been thinking about the antiques’ fate a lot lately. In less than a year, his wife, sister-in-law and only child have died.

“If I don’t sell it now and something happens to me …,” he said with a shrug, his voice trailing off. “Hopefully, these things can bring others pleasure.”

George left the building during the preview and returned just before bidding. “He was here, but he was getting tired of people asking him what else he still had at home,” Duffey said.

The crush started early. People swarmed into the Floral Building just after 9 a.m. to start poring over the antiques.

Chinese chairs carved in ebony with snarling dragons for arms intrigued people with both thick and slim checkbooks.

But the collection was not all exotic furniture or Tiffany lampshades. A Spokane Inland Pride Beer tray drew a lot of interest. There were dolls and doll furniture and old-fashioned travel pennants touting places throughout the West.

If they passed out awards for travel, Pat Mahin of Wyoming would have won easily.

The owner of the Mangy Moose restaurant in Jackson Hole, Mahin hobbled into the building with a cast on his leg about an hour before the auction started.

“I like the Galle glass and the Oriental furniture,” he said when asked what had drawn him to the auction. “Then, you hope there’s some sleepers here. Bargains, you hope. That’s why you come.”

Come he did. Mahin said he took four flights and three taxi rides to get to the auction.

If he liked what he saw Sunday, he might be back.

That’s not a problem.

“We have enough stuff in the house to have three more auctions,” said George with a smile.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Color photos

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