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Family's pewter piece sells for record $50,000

October 02, 1997

By LAURA ERNDE

Staff Writer

BOONSBORO - A Hagerstown-area family knew that the pewter flagon that had been in their family since the Civil War was valuable, but they were stunned when it sold recently for a jaw-dropping $50,000.

Pewter collectors said it was the highest price ever brought by a single pewter piece, according to the auctioneers, Cochran Auctioneers and Associates Ltd. of Boonsboro.

Flagons once were used in churches to hold unconsecrated wine that was used to fill cups at the communion table.

Every day, household items go on the auction block around the Tri-State area.

Occasionally, a special item brings a mind-boggling price. Often, it is the item that auctioneers least expect to bring in the big bucks, they said.

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The flagon is unique because it is one of 19 known flagons signed by Johann Christoph Heyne of Lancaster, Pa., according to "A History of American Pewter" by Charles F. Montgomery.

There are 80 known examples of Heyne pewter, many of them still owned by the central Pennsylvania Lutheran churches for which they were made, the book says.

Joan Kahler, archivist for a Lancaster church that owns two Heyne flagons, said she was surprised at their value.

Trinity Lutheran Church has them insured for $22,000.

"I think many people who have pewter from Heyne are going to look at their pewter in a new way," Kahler said.

An unidentified Michigan collector took home the flagon by beating out four other bidders at Cochran's "Country Americana" sale on Sept. 20.

The Hagerstown-area family that sold the flagon also wanted to remain anonymous, said auctioneer Marvin Mellott.

"It's rare that you find something that brings that kind of money," said John Kohler, auctioneer at Gateway Gallery in Chambersburg, Pa.

In May, Gateway Gallery sold a Palmer blanket chest from Fulton County, Pa., for $22,000, he said.

Items significant to local history are more likely to bring high prices, auctioneers said.

Also at the Cochran sale, a grandfather clock made by Jacob Craft of Shepherdstown, W.Va., sold for $20,000, he said.

Auctioneer Robert C. Mullendore of Boonsboro once saw a local waltz clock go for $46,000 and has seen an antique toy bring $8,000.

In August, the contents of the Snow Hill Cloister Nunnery in Quincy, Pa., brought $837,860 at auction.

The 600 pieces of furniture, textiles and pottery had been locked away for more than 100 years in the rooms and attic of a 45-room brick building once occupied by the monastic society.

Forty pottery bowls believed to have been made by Waynesboro, Pa., potter John Bell brought in a total of $345,400, one selling for a high price of $15,500 and the lowest going for $5,500.

An 11-foot dining room table sold for $40,000, a set of pillow cases went for $450, a communion plate sold for $11,000 and two Jacob Wolf clocks sold for $19,000 and $7,000.

It is sometimes difficult to tell which items will inflate the bidding.

Bunker Hill, W.Va., auction clerk Joy Schreck remembers when a piece of wood brought $1,600.

It turned out the wood was a cupola - the piece that holds the weather vane on top of a barn, Schreck said.

The things that people think are trash often bring high prices, said auctioneer Matthew S. Hurley of Waynesboro, Pa.

One woman who found four toys in a trash can sold them at his auction for nearly $1,000, Hurley said.

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