MARION — Always be careful before throwing away old papers.
The item could bear the telltale marks of classic American writer Edgar Allen Poe, known for his mastery of the macabre.
That’s what happened when Frank McNamee, owner of Marion Antique Auctions, visited a home in the area in 2013.
The owner had requested a valuation of an old desk. As usual when examining on desks, the drawers have been emptied.
And in this case they were full of literary history.
In a folded envelope he saw “a poem scrawled on stained paper.”
This poem wasn’t your usual homemade vignette. The font bore the words “The Conqueror Worm” by EA Poe.
First published in 1843, six years before Poe’s death at age 40, this Poe poem examines human mortality and the certainty of death.
McNamee’s discovery, of course, was met with “tremendous interest.” But was it real?
The signature looked correct and the paper turned out to be of the right time.
“Paper changes over time,” McNamee said, so properly aged paper is a sign of an item’s authenticity.
But the paperwork was also met with skepticism. Was it really Poe’s writing? Some scholars said yes, others had their doubts.
In the end, thorough research connected the dots between the history of the newspaper’s location and the ties to Poe’s former editor.
The poem has been deemed authentic and is now in the Morgan Library in New York City.
But not before it was bought by Marion at auction for $300,000.
Of all the finds he’s made, this one was “the most exciting,” McNamee said.
But it wasn’t the most lucrative.
This title is based on a hand drawing that could eventually bring in more than a million dollars.
This story began with an auction at Marion Antique Auctions in October 2020. The sale included a 1652 hand drawing of Dutch Army General and Navy Admiral Maarten Tromp by Dutch painter Jan Lievens.
McNamee found the drawing in the estate of a local family. He wasn’t sure what he had at first. He asked if the drawing was a fake Rembrandt.
In fact, Lievens had a close connection to Rembrandt, his contemporary a year older. The two once shared a studio and both painted historical works and portraits.
Over time, according to McNamee, Rembrandt “became famous and Lievens fell into oblivion”.
But not for historians. Tromp’s drawing has been unknown since it was sold at auction in the early 1900s.
“What happened” from that point on “was unknown”.
He wondered if he had his answer in this South Shore property. The writing on the print confirmed its possible authenticity and intrigued McNamee so much that he auctioned it off for around $80,000.
McNamee grossly underestimated the interest. The painting went for $514,800 to a New York art dealer who “took a big risk.”
This chance, the dealer hopes, could literally pay off. He hopes to sell the piece at a European auction for around $1.5 million.
In this case the subject — Admiral Tromp — was a big draw, McNamee said, because he’s “like the George Washington of the Netherlands.”
A fierce combatant, Tromp had great success in the First Anglo-Dutch War, fought mainly by sea from 1652 to 1654. In 1652 Tromp sat for a portrait for Lievens. The next year he was killed in action by an English sniper.
He is still considered a Dutch hero, buried in a marble monument and revered by the country’s residents and today by art historians worldwide.
Not every sale McNamee makes brings in six or seven figures, but he believes each has an interesting backstory.
A recent auction has netted sales inclusive an early 19th-century inlaid ebony and whalebone for $10,000; an early 20th-century hammered silver and enamel casket for $8,000; and a selection of John F. Kennedy memorabilia for $950.
Almost all of his articles involve finding customers’ items, determining their value and relying on his historical knowledge and that of his staff.
“I go out every day to look at things to see if they’re worth auctioning,” he said. “We discover things every day. It’s an exciting career.”
Marion Antique Auctions is holding a sale at 10:00 am at its location at 13 Atlantis Drive in Marion. Saturday August 6th. The visit is possible on Thursday 4th August and Friday 5th August from 10am to 5pm and on Saturday from 8am to 9.30am. Visit marionantiqueauctions.com for more information.