MT. CRAWFORD, Va. – Jeff Evans, president and senior auctioneer of Jeffrey S. Evans & Associates, is passionate about researching the decorative arts and material culture of the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and also 19th-century American glass. Starting at the age of 11 in his family’s auction business, he gained an appreciation for interesting and well-made objects as well as their origin stories. He gained control of that business before graduating high school and now eagerly shares his knowledge through lectures as well as several books he has written or co-written.
What is a typical day on the job like?
It differs because I am starting to give up some of the reins. If I am at work, I am assisting everyone, answering questions and helping lotting [preparing lots for auction]. I do a lot of the lotting now because I am so familiar with everything that I can do it extremely quickly. If I’m off site, I’m working on the computer or talking on the cell phone while Beverly [Executive Vice President of the auction house and also Jeffrey’s wife] drives us to our next pickups. We just picked up a big collection in Bel Air, Maryland, and we are headed home. Both Beverly and I turn 60 this year, so we are looking to start stepping back a little bit.
What is your favorite part of the job?
My favorite part is doing research on the pieces whether it’s a piece of Shenandoah Valley decorative arts or … We just got a fabulous pair of free blown, thistle form vases that are engraved for William Henry Harrison’s log cabin and hard cider campaign of 1844, and I am working on researching those. That is an exciting thing right now — being able to find pieces that are previously unrecorded, and being able to do the research.
Are many unknown items still waiting to be discovered?
There is so much stuff from Shenandoah Valley that has stayed in the families over the years and has retained its history. A dozen great rare pieces every year turn up that have never been recorded or researched before.
How did you get started collecting object histories?
I had a strong historical interest in the material and also the families that owned it, so a lot of the things I was collecting [starting at age 11 when buying basement and attic contents to sell at flea markets], I would actually record what sale they came from and whose estate they came from. Little did I know at that time, this would become a great research tool for things that I’d be doing in the future: exhibitions and catalogs on Shenandoah Valley chairs and pie safes and Rockingham County pottery. Recording that recovered history that early on was extremely important, and it came out because I really cared. I was close to all my grandparents and they had things that had come down through the family … so that made me care about who owned things, which just contributed so much to my academic research later.
So you collect stories as well as objects?
Exactly! That’s one reason we have been so successful with Shenandoah Valley material, because we do record the story and tell the narrative of the piece. That’s what people, in today’s market, are really looking for. They are looking for great objects but they are also looking for pieces that retain their history they can make a connection to.
Tell me about an interesting discovery or historically significant piece that you have sold.
The one we are best known for is the Johannes Spitler hanging “medicine cabinet” cupboard from Page County (it was Shenandoah County then). It’s one of about 35 or 40 pieces recorded by him, and this piece was discovered by one of our appraisers, Will McGuffin, in Page County. This was back before cell phones and digital cameras, so he’s doing the appraisal and I was over at the Rockingham County Historical Society, finishing up my exhibit on Rockingham County pottery that was going to open up that weekend. He stopped by and said he had discovered something really important and showed me pictures he had just gotten developed. It was totally unknown and had been in this house under the stairs since 1840, but was built about 1800. The people who owned it were related to Spitler, like a lot of the owners of pieces he decorated. This piece was moved into the new house in 1840 and used as a medicine cabinet so it hadn’t seen the light of the day for that long. It survived in an almost pristine condition, which is totally unheard of. That was in 2004, and we sold it for $962,500. That still stands as a record today for a Johannes Spitler piece and also a record for a piece of Southern furniture.
How are you passing on knowledge to others?
We are doing a lot of things in the education field. We host seminars and are also sponsoring the Colonial Williamsburg Antiques Forum and working closely with a lot of museums. Beverly and I are going to be building a small educational center on our compound where we live. We want to host small hands-on seminars there — kind of like what Don Carpentier did with Dish Camp back before he passed away — with Shenandoah Valley decorative arts and also American glass. We have put together pretty significant collections of each of those and we want to be able to share them with people. Hands-on is the best way to learn about this stuff.
To contact Jeffrey S. Evans or discuss a future consignment to Jeffrey S. Evans & Associates, call 540.434.3939. Click to visit Jeffrey S. Evans & Associates online.