An estate sale for one of Omaha's most prominent families mesmerized even veteran treasure hunters.
Hundreds of people flocked over the weekend to sale of the luxurious possessions of department store founder J.L. Brandeis' heirs. The three-day sale, held at 6724 Davenport St., a former residence of the family, is to wrapped up today, but organizers believe a second sale will be needed in November.
Barb Violi, 72, described herself as a member of Omaha's informal “estate sale posse” whose members spend most weekends trooping through homes. She said the Brandeis-Baer family collection was the richest she had seen.
“They had stuff in there that I couldn't even believe,” Violi said. “It's a fabulous sale. And everything in there — I thought, anyway — was really reasonable compared to what they could've asked for it.”
Some of the prizes going out of the door and headed for the vehicles that lined the streets of the Fairacres neighborhood included Dunbar furniture, Waterford crystal, designer purses, clothing, autographed sports memorabilia, brass table lamps, jade figurines, china and flatware.
The sale was limited to the first floor of the house; more items from upstairs were brought down and put on display as other items were snapped up.
A case of 1934 Cutty Sark Tam O'Shanter scotch whisky sold for $3,000, and a 78-piece Reed and Barton stainless steel flatware set was priced to move at $300. Smaller items such as designer belts, linen napkin sets and ornate pill boxes ranged from $5 to $25.
Violi came away with a $150 framed portrait of Frank Sinatra's 1938 mugshot from when he was arrested for carrying on with a married woman and a $10 street sign proclaiming Frank Sinatra Drive. Violi said she is a pushover for “Old Blue Eyes,” as was Marcia Baer, who died in 2010.
Judi Baer-Peters, who is helping Wakin Estate Consultants manage the sale, said the Baer family decided to sell the house and its contents following the death of her former husband, John Baer, in June at the age of 51.
“A lot of the things here are unique pieces,” Baer-Peters said. “You look at this elegant dinnerware and you can imagine the ladies of another time attending formal lunches complete with the ornate china and fine silverware. There was a lot of entertaining in this house and a lot of memories of wonderful holiday meals with friends and family.”
Jim Wakin of Wakin Estate Consultants said, “They collected only the finest of the finest. But we look at it as all of these treasures are passing on for another generation to enjoy.”
John Baer moved back into his childhood home after the deaths of his parents, Alan and Marcia Baer. An older brother, Ted Baer, lives in west Omaha. Alan Baer served as president of J.L. Brandeis & Sons, which was founded in 1881 and sold in 1987 to Younkers Inc. The Baer family business endeavors have included sports teams, catering, banking and keno companies.
A charitable foundation named for Alan and Marcia Baer has awarded grants to arts and educational entities in Nebraska. Recently, the Omaha Community Playhouse named its orchestra pit in honor of the Baer family.
“The Baer family, and earlier the Brandeis family, has a history of giving back to the community, the arts and youth organizations,” Baer-Peters said. “Alan and Marcia continued that tradition of generous giving.”
Marcia Baer loved to travel the world searching for beautiful items to fill her home, Baer-Peters said. She had a particular fondness for oriental artwork, as evidenced by the Japanese screens, statues of Chinese dragon porcelain figures and ornate wood carvings for sale.
Travis Freeman said he didn't know who Marcia and Alan Baer were when they walked into his Brite Ideas store looking for Christmas lights more than 15 years ago. Freeman carried the purchases to their vehicle.
“I noticed their license plate said 'Lancers' and I mentioned it,” Freeman said. “They told me they liked the team quite a bit and we struck up a conversation. A bit later that afternoon, they sent over four tickets to a game with a nice note.”
Freeman said he wasn't surprised by the wide variety of items for sale in the Baer home. They had eclectic tastes, said Freeman, who bonded with the Baers over Oriental art.
“I go to China about four times a year, and Marcia and I both like Asian art. So we would always talk about that,” Freeman said. “She came down every year to buy Christmas lights for their home and I got to know them pretty well. They were wonderful people.”
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