There it was -- 825 pounds of string tightly wound into a mammoth ball -- holding its own among marble busts of Roman emperors, a hand-carved Victorian mantle and framed works of art.
Hundreds watched anxiously at a Timonium auction house yesterday as two men battled to take home the treasure -- a 4-foot-high relic of the fabled and defunct Haussner's Restaurant of Eastern Avenue.
Sold to a man at the back of the packed Richard Opfer auction house yesterday. The string -- made from laundry twine used to package clean tablecloths and napkins -- will now sit in an antique store in Fells Point.
"This is what I came here for," said the ball's new owner, Robert Gerber. "It's one of a kind, and it needs to stay in Baltimore. I told my wife I was in for $12,000 to $15,000, maybe more."
The shaggy ball of string wasn't the most aesthetically pleasing piece sold yesterday at Richard Opfer Auctioneering, but it was the buzz of the room and kicked off the second sale of items from the family-owned restaurant that was a Highlandtown landmark for 73 years.
By day's end, the 502-lot sale of furniture, fine and decorative art, sculpture, porcelain and glass brought in more than $2.1 million. The first sale of Haussner's art and exotica, held at Sotheby's in New York, took in more than $12 million.
"The whole response has been unbelieveable," said Francie Haussner George, whose parents founded the restaurant. "I had no idea we were involved in that many people's lives."
George said the money will go into trust funds.
Sotheby's, which attracted high-profile collectors and telephone bids from Europe and Asia, sold the top 20 percent of the Haussner collection, and Opfer got 80 percent, a portion of which was sold yesterday. Opfer has scheduled two more sales for Jan. 15 and Jan. 16.
The next sale will feature nostalgic items such as old menus, Frances Haussner's cookbook collection and beer steins, as well as Asian objects.
"It's a collection no one has ever had a chance to buy, and everyone knows about it," Opfer said.
The average cost of the lots was around $4,000, according to Opfer. For some people, the prices were overwhelming.
Taking a break from the standing-room-only auction room, Reinhard Eisener of Washington stood in awe at the frenzied spending. He wasn't buying, only watching.
"I'm surprised things are that expensive," said Eisener, who came to the auction with his friend Ruben McCornack. "Obviously, there's a lot of emotion behind it."
McCornack, who also lives in Washington, said the bidding was out of his range. Like many who shelled out a refundable $250 to gain entry, McCornack had hoped to snag a piece of his favorite Baltimore restaurant. "It doesn't look like my wife is going to get a Christmas present from the Haussner estate," he said.
The restaurant at Eastern Avenue and Clinton Street was known for its combination of fine food -- marked by German specialties and seafood -- and atmosphere.
It closed in September to long lines waiting for one last crab cake and plate of schnitzel.
George, who operated the restaurant with her husband, Steve, chose to sell the art in a series of auctions at Sotheby's and in Baltimore.
The building and its equipment was donated to the Baltimore International College to be used as a culinary center.
Peggy Nolker is sad to see the restaurant closed. She had gone there since she was 7 years old, often for birthdays, Christmas Eve dinners and anniversaries. She was especially interested in seeing who bought the ball of string.
"It's most peculiar, it's just an oddity," said Nolker, 62. "I just don't know who would want it and what they would do with it."
Gerber said his business partner, Robert Jansen, will pick the ball up today and display it in the front window of the Antique Man in the 1700 block of Fleet St. It should be right at home with such attractions as a 12-foot, two-headed mummy and a severed foot that once belonged to a railroad man.
Though it's not the biggest ball of twine in the country, the Haussner's sphere is no peewee. According to a label from the mid-1970s, the string measures 337.5 miles, enough to stretch from Baltimore to Rhode Island with room to spare.
The string was once wrapped around bundles of napkins. Frances Wilke Haussner, who founded the restaurant with her husband, William Henry Haussner, thought it would be good to save to remind the staff not to use the linen as cleaning cloth.
They rolled the string into small balls, and then into the big ball until sometime in the 1970s when napkins arrived wrapped in plastic.
Opfer said he chose the ball as the first item because it is a symbol of Haussner's and represents the hard work of its founders.