November 28, 2023

If you want to experience great impromptu theater and also get a taste of luxury along with finding some bargains and everyday needs, visit our local auctions. My first experience along this line was becoming a spectator at the Stuart Kingston Gallery auctions back in the 1970s when I was lucky enough to live in an apartment at the Moore Building on Rehoboth Avenue. It was in the center of town above what was once Moore’s Pharmacy, then South Moon Under by the late ‘70s, and has housed other shops since then.

On summer evenings I would walk down the Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk, taking in all of the long-ago happenings there. They included the “Repent Man,” who strode along the boards shouting “Reee-pennt!”; maybe some of you, like me, are old enough to remember him. And a guy named Eddie who spouted verbiage that, if you really listened, was actually quite intellectual. Dolle’s and all the other stores were lit up at night. At the north end of the Boardwalk was Stuart Kingston, a gallery resplendent with oriental rugs, squatting Buddhas, glittering trays of jewels and other sumptuous goods.

Stuart Kingston had been founded around 1930 by Maurice Stein and is now a third-generation business headed by Maurice’s granddaughter, Mauria (the daughter of Jay Stein, Maurice’s son). My first patroness was Maurice’s wife, the matriarch Anita Stein, one of those grand ladies of Rehoboth. She purchased my painting “Wash Day Blues” from the Rehoboth Art League. She hung it on her wall next to her N.C. Wyeth original, “The Opium Smoker,” an unexpected honor for me.

I used to visit her often. She would greet me in diamonds. I made paintings for her family, friends, and maid, Ethel. She had two large Bouvier dogs, Oona and Philla, circling her blue swimming pool; I painted them 12 times!  Returning to the auction, I was fascinated by the droll Frank Kennedy and his sidekick Irv Pine. His arms crossed, he would start off with small oriental rugs, a size that would cover a toaster like a saddle, and sometimes little items like pens to whet everyone’s appetite for larger items later and to get the bidding process pumped up. Those hot summer nights under the lights with the Boardwalk and ocean sounds pounding at the doors make me wax nostalgic now.

These days, you can find me at Emmert Auction, usually in the front row if I can find a seat. Emmert Auction Associates was started in 1976 by the eminent Butch Emmert, who is now joined by his son, Will. Butch’s wife, Carol, presides up front recording the sales. They love selling, from the small to the large, and they know how to work the  crowd. You can find almost anything. Paintings and Longaberger baskets, furniture, antique glass, cars, and low-digit Delaware license plates. He sold No. 6 for $675,000!

Their auctioneer, the very able Herbie Kenton, moves things along quickly with wit and droll humor, banging the gavel down with flair. Friends and regulars populate the seats. Sometimes the auction is set in their own gallery on the Forgotten Mile across from Spring Lake; other times it’s at Convention Hall on Rehoboth Avenue, usually on Sundays, although it can also occur on Friday or Saturday afternoons.

Another interesting place to visit is Wilson’s Auction, if you care to venture west to Route 113 near Lincoln. It is owned by Sen. Dave Wilson, who recently was honored with a Jefferson Award for his good deeds in support of surrounding communities. An amiable man with the warm, honeyed voice of an auctioneer and twinkling blue eyes, Dave Wilson is quite a charmer.

He started by auctioning lots of watermelons and produce as a young teenager at Spence’s Bazaar in Dover. He opened Wilson’s Auction in the mid-1970s. It’s a large place. An outside auction occurs on Saturday mornings in the back of the property. Lines of goods are available, with the auctioneer moving along the rows. Inside, there’s a myriad of tables loaded with batches of all kinds of items. Once again, the tireless auctioneer moves along until almost all is sold.

At the end of the afternoon, a few items are left and can be had for free. I myself have shamelessly found many frames for my paintings that way. At night, there’s a more formal auction. Even in the late afternoon, aficionados wait patiently in the seats lined up for the evening’s show. I once witnessed signed Salvador Dali prints being sold!

There are also weekly auctions of automobiles and some special holiday events. In the summer, huge fans cool the air, and in the winter, like the day I visited recently, a potbelly stove opens its door to reveal crackling, red-orange coals. I look forward to lunch at the snack bar catered by the Southern Grille in Ellendale. The usual fried chicken, hot dogs and cheeseburgers are offered, along with local favorites like lima bean and dumpling soup, and another Southern favorite, pretzel salad.

Yes, the local-area auctions offer theater, high wit, bargains, food, and sometimes, as Dave Wilson said, “The rapture of scoring that very thing you really, really want!” 


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