Flomaton Antique Auction
Who will give me…‘65…’66…19…1967…September of that year, to be exact, was the first production of Flomaton Antique Auction. In a building that was located where the cash registers of Piggly Wiggly currently stand, was where on a Friday evening Mr. Herbert Heller, along with his wife Dorothy, rang up their first total of $1465.00. Going back before the beginnings of the auction company, Herbert Heller, with his wife, moved to this small town of Flomaton, Alabama in 1961 to pastor a Mennonite church in the community. Having moved here from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Herbert was aware of the fine antiques made in America and especially those produced in the population and manufacturing centers of the Northeastern area of the country. After a phone call from a third cousin, Dave Lehman, Herbert accepted his proposal; if Herbert would set up an auction company, Dave, being a fulltime buyer/picker would supply the merchandise. In 1967 Flomaton Antique Auction began having bi-weekly auctions on Friday evenings. By the third auction, Chiquita’s Department Store building was chosen to be the site of the early auctions. In 1972, a new block building with ample parking was built to accommodate the auction company. Both of these buildings are located one mile south of the Alabama/Florida state line, along Highway 29 and currently accommodate Wallace Paint and Body Shop. The customer base is largely from the Southeastern United States, with the largest percentage being dealers buying for their antique shops or a client. There are also considerable amounts of items going into the Northeast and West Coast areas. Some of our best customers over the years have been – Bob Snow (Rosie ‘O Gradies), Cook Cleland/Pensacola, Dacy Espy/Jackson, Doc Murray/Mobile, Richard Avery/Marion, Wesley Cooper/Natchez, MS, Joyce Bellows/Thomasville, GA and a multitude of others that could be mentioned. Another memorable purchaser was Arlin Dease, who restored Nottoway Plantation Home south of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It is the largest of all southern antebellum homes with 64 rooms and a total of 53,000 square feet of living area. We sold approximately eighty percent of the furnishings currently in this fine home, called “White Castle”, while it was being restored during the early 1980’s. Another customer has built a large contemporary underground home covered by the plains of Texas, filling it mostly with items bought in Flomaton. Some of the most exciting stories are of the merchandise itself, one being President Zachary Taylor’s canopy bed selling to a Taylor descendant who owns the largest farm east of the Mississippi River. She purchased the bed for thirty thousand dollars with plans for a museum to be done somewhere on her twelve thousand acre Virginia farm. Another memory was of a consignment of deaccessioned items from the Alabama Museum of Art of many guns, and included a hat used by a member of the 123rd Tennessee Confederate Regiment that sold for 16,000 dollars. This rare Ranger type hat was sold immediately to someone spending $7,000 on its restoration. Now some 15 years later it is on the market – any buyers…for $52,000? Another item we received a call on was about an item from a house trailer in the Montgomery area; an 1860 rosewood étagère that was sold for $34,000. About four years later, I received a call on my cell phone with an offer to pay $75,000 for that same étagère. The offer was turned down, along with the quote “my wife would kill me if I sold that”. This same Chicago area couple sits on Victorian sofas purchased in Flomaton over the course of several years, for the handsome sum of ten thousand dollars each. Another customer from Nashville, Tennessee, purchased his bedroom furniture at one of our auctions, paying $52,000 for almost a roomful of furniture. One other interesting story of local interest is of a cast iron boar that had been sitting in a Brewton area yard. It had a provenance including the famed Flagler Mansion collection and the crest of a Florida Indian mound. It went to an excited buyer from Ireland for $13,000. (7) Many of our customers are filling their antebellum homes, live-in museums and bed and breakfast inns with these fine period antiques. One currently being filled is an exquisite 1860 home with six large classical fluted columns across the front. The panorama from the rear of the house includes a view across eleven miles of beautiful central Alabama hills. Alabama, by the way, has more antebellum homes then any other state, due to easy street access during the early and mid 1800’s – streets??…did I say streets?…they actually were the waterways. These were the highways of the 1800’s; with Alabama topping the list of navigable waterways in the United States it made the development of plantations and farms achievable. While stories of fine furniture and collections such as these are exciting and interesting, they involve more dollars than the average person has for furnishing their home. We sell many fine quality items at a nominal amount for the modern home and for the price conscious buyer. These are good usable items for today’s home and are sensible investments, while at the same time are being preserved for future generations. I will end with the qualifications that should be considered when purchasing an investment quality or fine antique item – 1) quality, 2) condition, 3) maker, 4) provenance and 5) age.
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