Parts of a family's history are auctioned, piece by piece Bevy of lounging ladies finally getting out of town

March 01, 1992|By Michael Ollove | Michael Ollove,Staff Writer

In her early years with the power company, Molly Dohony, like other employees, was given company calendars every year illustrated by popular American artist Maxfield Parrish.

Picturing women lounging unashamedly in willowy shifts, one can only assume that the illustrations struck Miss Dohony, a devout Catholic, as risque. Disgusting may have been closer to the mark.

In any case, the calendars apparently were never even removed from their tubes but whisked up to the attic of the family home in Ruxton. There they remained for nearly three quarters of a century.

Until yesterday.

Nineteen years after Miss Dohony's death, the 11 calendars were auctioned off, bringing prices -- between $150 and $550 -- that would most likely have astounded their one-time owner.

The Parrish illustrations were merely the most exotic in a sale of household of goods that marked the end to the Dohony family's nearly century-long occupation of the white, clapboard house at 7926 Roldrew Ave.

The estate recently sold the house to an undisclosed buyer who is not a member of the family. At yesterday's auction, all the belongings inside the house made their way out of the family, too.

So many of the items sold evoked a different American era. Depression glassware, antique jewelry, a child's collection of wooden tops, a 50-year old GE radio.

Some pieces, so unexpected, brought vivid images to mind, like the mechanical, hand-held police siren that a patrolman would have twirled above his head as he chased a thief down the street. And in the carriage house out back stood a hump-backed, 1950 Chevrolet sedan with 29,584 original miles on the odometer.

"It literally belonged to the little old lady who drove it nowhere but to church and the grocery store," said Douglas J. Benn, who handled the liquidation for the estate. The car, not driven since 1974, sold for $3,000.

Mr. Benn believes the house was built around 120 years ago. It was first occupied by the Dohonys around the turn of the century when John J. Dohony, a track foreman with the Pennsylvania Railroad, and his wife, Mary, moved in.

Three of the couple's eight children, Molly, Anne and Nora, never married and remained in the house until their deaths. (Molly and Anne died in 1973; Nora in 1984). "They all had a great sense of humor and loved to laugh," said Jack C. Dohony, a grandnephew and personal representative of the estate.

A fourth sister, Bessie McGrath, died of the flu as a young woman, leaving behind a 7-year-old son, John J. McGrath. His three aunts brought the boy directly from the funeral parlor to the Ruxton house. He never married either and lived in the house until he died in November 1991, 70 years later, a death that finally necessitated yesterday's auction.

The sale, held in the front yard, attracted more than 200 bidders, many of them professional dealers but also individuals looking to make off with bargains on well-crafted furniture and knickknacks. Shirley Tyndall of Severna Park, for example, bought a delicate, china lamp for $60. "It would have cost me $150 or $170 in a shop," she said.

Mrs. Tyndall said she attends several estate sales a year, most of them held in auction houses. She said, however, that she prefers sales like yesterday's that are held where the original owners lived. "I like the ambience of seeing where the stuff came from, of imagining it here," she said.

Randy Nix, a 35-year old schoolteacher from New Hampshire, had come all that way with one goal in mind, to gather up as many of the Maxfield Parrishes as he could.

Mr. Nix and his brother Randy, who lives in southern Pennsylvania, both collect and sell commercial artworks, particularly the illustrations used in advertising during the early part of the 20th century. Mr. Parrish, for example, often produced illustrations for power companies, including Consolidated Gas, Electric Light and Power Co., which later became BG&E.

For 50 years, Molly Dohony was a secretary at the power company; for many years, the company president's secretary. At the time of her death, she had 11 calendars from the years 1918 to 1931, including seven poster-size illustrations, precisely the ones sought by the Nix brothers.

The Nixes, tipped off to the sale by Mr. Benn, a long-time friend, did not intend to be outbid. They weren't. When they were done, they had spent $3,460 for 10 prints. The didn't bid on an 11th that was not in quite as good condition.

"We rolled into town this morning just hoping we could get them, so we're real happy," said Randy Nix.

"And in debt," his brother added.

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