It required stamina and cash at Ken Farmer’s antique auction

By Eileen Smith – For Antique Trader

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — The late Sam Jones lived large and bought big – accumulating 20 sets of fine china, hundreds of works of art and no fewer than 30 pieces of Louis Vuitton luggage during his lifetime. Ken Farmer sold it all in a whirlwind, no-reserve sale June 8-10, where hundreds of bidders jammed a 5,400-square-foot tent for a shot at such choice pieces as a pair of Egyptian revival bronze candelabra, stowed in a storeroom by Jones’ widow Ursula when the shipbuilding magnate died 29 years ago. Mrs. Jones passed away earlier this year.

“It was the most exhausting sale and the most fun sale I’ve ever had,” said Farmer, a popular appraiser on Antiques Roadshow and owner of Ken Farmer Auctions & Appraisals in Radford, Va., noting he and his staff spent 22 consecutive days on site preparing for the event. Farmer’s crew was on the scene at daybreak, putting down mulch and raking gravel to counteract the effects of a cloudburst the night before.
Fortuitously, blue skies prevailed, reflecting a sunny mood among bidders. The $10 catalog served as an admission ticket for two people for each day of the three-day event, which also included two uncataloged auctions and daily yard sales. The sale total was just under $800,000, including 15 percent buyer’s premium.

Throughout the event it was obvious that Mr. and Mrs. Jones had discerning taste. A pair of Minton cache pots, circa 1910 and in impeccable condition, in cobalt with gold trim on ivory, brought $21,850, going to a phone bidder from New York. The auctioneer said it would be hard to find the pair of Parisian urns with hand-painted castles and gilt trim outside a museum. That duo from the Jones estate made $8,625, in spite of a broken handle.

But many lots were in mint condition by virtue of having been tucked away for almost three decades. An alligator purse by Lucille de Paris, with accessory coin purse, looked as if it had just come out of the shop. Its new owner is a fashion-savvy bidder from Indiana who paid $1,840 for it. “She joked that it was the least expensive purse she’d ever bought,” Farmer said. “She’d just placed an order for an Hermes bag that cost more than $5,000.”

Farmer found the 27-inch-tall candelabra in a storeroom, dripping cobwebs but otherwise in good condition. The pair sparked considerable competition, with the winner writing a check for $11,500.

The Joneses married in the 1950s and set up housekeeping at Sajo Farms – a contraction of Sam and Jones – in a 14,500-square-foot brick manor house. At the time, he was 64 and she was 24. Despite their age difference, they shared an appreciation for amassing decorative arts, carpets and furniture. After Jones died in 1977, his widow moved out of the main house and into smaller quarters on the property.

“She crammed the contents of a 30-room mansion into a 10-room house and a few outbuildings,” the auctioneer said.

The couple entertained lavishly, requiring a dozen sets of sterling flatware. Bidders took a shine to a Gorham service for 12 that included such specialized niceties as six egg spoons, a dozen butter spreaders and a mustard ladle, manufactured in 1888 in the Versailles pattern. The monogrammed set garnered $5,175. The new owner also forked over $2,300 for a 206-piece Towle service for 12, also monogrammed, in the D’Orleans pattern. A set of 10 Royal Worcester dessert plates with cobalt and blue border and painted still-life centers took the cake, making a sweet $2,070.

A self-made millionaire who dropped out of school at age 13, Jones loved books. Judging from the prices realized, so did bidders. An autographed copy of From Manassas to Appomattox, Memoirs of the Civil War in America, by Gen. J. Longstreet (Philadelphia, Lippincott, 1896) charged to $6,325. Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (New York, Charles Webster, 1885) sailed to $6,612.
Good Friends, an oil on canvas of two cows in a bucolic landscape by the English-born American painter Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait (1819-1905), made $8,625, going to a Mid-Atlantic dealer. A 25-inch by 20-inch oil on canvas of three hunting dogs in a landscape in a gilt/gesso Barbizon frame fetched $5,462.

In furniture, an American walnut Queen Anne table with battened pin top over three molded lip drawers brought $4,025. A mahogany Regency-style four-door bookcase with Greek key and floral marquetry inlay realized $4,312. A set of 12 Chippendale-style dining chairs – two armchairs and 10 side chairs – garnered $13,800.

A Pennsylvania walnut tall-case clock by James Cooper with tombstone bonnet door with painted Roman moon dial ticked to $8,625, while an English tall-case clock in inlaid mahogany with gooseneck broken-arch pediment, signed W.R. Eaton, Birmingham, chimed to $9,200.

There was a chorus of bids for music boxes, with a Regina floor model with mahogany case in Colonial style finishing to the tune of $4,312 – also the price paid for a Regina table model in walnut with Renaissance Revival-style moldings. A Regina table box in walnut with line inlay over ogee-molded base hit a $3,162 high note.

Auction goers had a rare opportunity to pack up their goods and take them home in an array of vintage Louis Vuitton luggage, circa 1920-1950, most with monograms and many with original keys, luggage tags, brass hardware and signed leather handles. Farmer thought a steamer trunk outfitted for shoes would go in the $10,000 range and he was right on the money, with a dealer specializing in the designer brand taking away the 45 inch by 25 inch trunk for $10,350.
Contact Ken Farmer Auctions & Appraisals at 540- 639-0939 or log on to