In Memoriam: Auction legend Don Presley

Don Presley (1945-2017). Photo by Frank Donadee

Don Presley (1945-2017). Photo by Frank Donadee

SANTA ANA, Calif. – The antiques trade lost one of its true originals on Jan. 12, 2017, with the passing of Don Presley, principal auctioneer and owner of Don Presley Auction Co., Santa Ana, California. Presley had fought a long and courageous battle against cancer. Vowing he would “never give up without one heck of a good fight.” He was 71 years old.

Donald Ray Presley was born in Shawnee, Oklahoma on May 14, 1945. He was the son of George and Cynthia Presley. They were Oklahomans who moved their family to Midway City, California in the 1950s.

Don Presley’s Path to Auction Icon

Don’s first jobs were working in construction and at Gotham Steel. After being injured in a forklift accident at the steel plant, Don underwent major back surgery. He spent much of his lengthy recovery time in bed. According to family lore, while recuperating, Don became infatuated with an audiotape someone gave him of an auctioneer conducting a sale. He listened intently, mimicking what he heard, and soon developed a cadence of his own. According to his wife, Kimberly, Don “got the bug, then and there.”

In the beginning of his new career, Don would call auctions for free to gain experience. Later, as his confidence and reputation grew, he started charging a fee for his services.

Cali. Auctioneer with Oklahoma Roots

From 1998 through 2012, Don ran his own company, Don Presley Auction Co. The gallery was located on West Katella Ave. in Orange, California. Don’s sales were known for their welcoming atmosphere, catered Mexican feasts, and Presley himself, whose lively auctioneering style was punctuated by his quick wit and engaging Oklahoma drawl. When Don Presley Auctions relocated in 2014 to its current venue on South Main Street in Santa Ana, Calif., the company’s loyal clientele followed.

Presley’s friendly rivals often scratched their heads in amazement over the way Don was able to get into Beverly Hills and Newport Beach mansions to secure consignments. Those closest to him explained that it was because he had kept the same friends he knew from his youth. Many were sons of immigrants who had arrived in California with very little money, but as adults they had become wealthy from building successful businesses. Whenever they wanted to sell art or downsize their holdings, they would call Don.

Memorable Moments

Any Don Presley auction typically contained high-end European decorative art, furniture and clocks, but through his Hollywood contacts, Presley was also entrusted with celebrity items. Over the years he sold an antique clock that belonged to Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra’s monogrammed shirt, and a personal ensemble worn by Marilyn Monroe. However, when it came to attracting publicity, nothing topped the “LaffBox,” a device containing a library of canned laughs and audience applause used during the production of I Love Lucy and many other popular sitcoms of the 1950s through 1970s. “People came in off the street just to test out the LaffBox during the preview. We had a lot of fun with it,” Presley told a reporter in 2011.

Because of his reputation for bringing personality to the podium, Don was a popular guest on TV shows. He made multiple appearances on A&E’s Storage Wars and auctioned properties on HGTV’s Flip or Flop. Additionally, his auctions were filmed onsite by the History Channel and other networks.

Enjoy a video clip of Mr. Presley at work during an auction from 2012….

Life Beyond the Auction Floor

Don was an active member of the Los Angeles Al Malaika Shriners, whose mission is to raise funds for Shriners International’s 22 hospitals throughout the United States. Presley considered charitable pursuits and fundraising projects “an integral part of [his] company’s mission” and made sure his auction-house services were available to any worthy cause.

Over long weekends, Don loved nothing more than to escape to the west coast of Mexico, where he spent each day, from sunrise to sunset, on a fishing boat in Pacific waters. As he approached the end of his life, he promised one close friend he would “not catch all the fish in Heaven,” but leave some behind for others.

Known and Beloved by Many

Don Presley is survived by his wife Kimberly, brothers Steven and Ted (wife Tangi); sister Janis Presley Baker, son Don Jr. (wife Lauren), daughter Tiffany Presley Mancao, stepdaughter Aubree Clayton, grandsons Joey and DJ Presley; granddaughters Priscilla Mancao and Betty Lou Horrigan; great grandson Blake Horrigan, and great granddaughter Hailey-Jo Horrigan. He was pre-deceased by his brother Robert Presley.

Per Don’s wishes, there were no formal services. Instead, there will be a party for his many friends in the antiques and auction trade. The family suggests charitable donations in Don’s memory to the American Cancer Society, www.cancer.org.

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