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Maritime collection hits the market Jan. 19-20

On January 19-20, Clars Auction Gallery is offering the first installment of more than 1,600 nautical artifacts and memorabilia that graced Spenger’s Fresh Fish Grotto in Berkeley, California.
four-masted German ship model

Scale ship models will also be offered including this handmade example of the four-masted German barque 'Thekla' with all sails set. All images courtesy of Clars

OAKLAND, Calif. – For over 125 years, Spenger’s Fresh Fish Grotto in Berkeley, California, had been one of the most sought after destinations for seafood in the San Francisco Bay Area. Founded in 1890 as just a clam stand by Johann Spenger who emigrated to California from Bavaria, his son Frank Spenger expanded the “stand” to a full service restaurant in the 1930s.

Frank was a passionate collector of maritime antiques, art and artifacts and, over the years, the interior of this famous San Francisco Bay Area restaurant became a virtual maritime museum with more than 1,600 nautical artifacts and memorabilia lining the walls and shelves of the dining rooms and bars.

The mounted trophy fish that graced the dining room and bar will be presented in this sale.

The mounted trophy fish that graced the dining room and bar of the Grotto Fish Market will be presented in this sale.

Spenger’s Fresh Fish Grotto closed its doors in October 2018 and, on January 19-20, 2019, Clars Auction Gallery is presenting the first installment of this major collection as part of its January Fine Art, Decorative Arts, Asian Antiques and Jewelry Auction. This will be a rare opportunity for collectors and restaurant patrons to own a piece of this historic collection that the Spenger family amassed over 125 years.

(NOTE: The second installment of this maritime collection will be offered during Clars February 16-17 sale. Also to be offered from the Spenger Collection in February will be the rare Star of Denmark 34 carat diamond ring and the historic Japanese 8-foot cloisonné vase that was exhibited at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair.)

The Spenger Maritime Collection

Antique dive suit

Antique dive suit and helmets will be offered.

Highlights of the Spenger collection to be offered include ships’ pilot wheels, one of which spans 8 feet in diameter. There will be diving helmets, ships’ nameboards, lanterns and a carved ships’ figurehead from the 19th century

Early ships’ bells will be offered as well as a very large selection of ships’ instruments including binnacle compasses, engine room telegraphs and a range finder from a U.S. destroyer. 

Scale ship models will also be offered including a handmade example of the four-masted German barque 'Thekla' with all sails set.

Some of the mounted trophy fish that once graced the walls of the main room and bar will also be part of this sale. In addition, 16 ships’ knees made from old growth Redwood salvaged from pre-1906 San Francisco ferryboats will be offered.

Deric Torres, Vice President of Decorative Arts & Furniture for Clars stated, “As the largest West Coast auction gallery, Clars is so proud and honored to represent the historic Spenger collection. Many in the Bay Area and the nation know of the restaurant and its collection, and we feel the sentimental attachment many have regarding the memories they shared with friends and loved ones at the restaurant will surely make the sale of this collection very exciting and highly successful for the Spenger Family.”

The History of Spenger’s Fresh Fish Grotto

carved ship's figurehead

This 19th century carved and polychrome decorated male ship's figurehead will be among the Maritime Collection highlights at the January sale.

Spenger’s was founded by Johann Spenger who emigrated to California from Bavaria in 1860 and worked as a hook and line fisherman on Oakland’s Lake Merritt. Beginning as just a clam stand in the 1890s, Johann’s son Frank expanded the “stand” to a full restaurant in the 1930s. Since then, celebrities and locals alike packed the restaurant daily.

By the 1950s, the restaurant was serving 3,500 pounds of fish each day, more than any restaurant west of the Mississippi. By the 1980s, it was serving 3,000 meals each day, staffed by 240 employees. By the 1980s, it had grown to be the fourth busiest restaurant in the country.

About the maritime collection auction

The January 19-20 sale of the Spenger Maritime Collection will be held in conjunction with Clars’ Fine Art, Decorative Art, Furniture, Jewelry and Asian Art Auction. The sales will begin promptly at 9:30 a.m. each day. Previews for this sale will be held Friday, January 18 from 1-6 p.m., Saturday and Sunday beginning at 9 a.m. and by appointment the week prior. For more information and to view the complete catalog, visit or email

Bidding for Clars’ auctions is available in person, by phone, absentee and live online at and through and

Clars Auction Gallery is located at 5644 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland, CA 94609. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to and affiliated websites. 

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