Public spends $560,000 bidding on nostalgia

Haussner's gimcracks, souvenirs fare well at weekend auction

January 17, 2000|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,SUN STAFF

If the petite porcelain ballerina had belonged to your grandmother -- something she picked up at a Howard Street department store in the old days -- it might be worth a few bucks.

But because the knickknack sat for decades in the dining room of former Haussner's Restaurant in Highlandtown, the curio was valued at about $50.

Ballerinas with lace tutus, beer steins, decorative plates and lamps with stained-glass shades went public in Timonium yesterday in one of the last auctions of high and low art from the East Baltimore landmark. Bidding yesterday and Saturday brought $560,000 in sales for 1,100 items, according to auctioneer Richard Opfer Jr.

"Saturday was the last of the fine and decorative art as well as the silver and Oriental ware," said Opfer. "Today, we sold collectibles, minor antiques and souvenirs."

Opfer auctioned $2.1 million worth of furniture, art and sculpture in a Haussner's auction Dec. 18. An initial sale of the restaurant's art and exotica at Sotheby's in New York took in more than $12 million.

Steve George, who owned the restaurant with his wife, Francie Haussner George, has said the money will be used to establish trust funds.

Two more auctions are scheduled before the holdings of the old German restaurant on Eastern Avenue -- founded at the corner of Clinton Street in 1926 as a family grocery -- will have been exhausted.

On March 2, Opfer will auction about a half-dozen paintings returned from Sotheby's -- art with intrinsic value beyond nostalgia for Haussner's -- while a painting by 18th-century artist Thomas Gainsborough has been shipped to London for auction the same month.

Haussner's sold its last crab cake and plate of sour beef and dumplings in early September. The building and equipment needed to feed 900 people a day have been donated to the Baltimore International College, a culinary school.

"The whole experience has been overwhelming," Francie George, daughter of the restaurant's founders, said yesterday. "I knew that we had fans and friends and very good customers, but I had no idea how much people loved it. I've gotten hundreds of phone calls and hand-written letters with family pictures inside taken at the restaurant. We heard things on our answering machine that made you cry."

Almost anything with the name Haussner's on it brought more money than reason would expect yesterday.

A case of the restaurant's bakery boxes -- simple paper boxes with a caricature of a chef and the restaurant's name and address on them in green ink -- brought $200.

Opfer sold the wooden phone booths that stood inside the front door for $1,000 each.

"It was very much a souvenir day. Because these things belonged to Haussner's, prices were anywhere from 20 percent to 300 percent more than normal," said Opfer, who has been in business 30 years and said he never saw anything like it. "People were going to buy it all. That's all there was to it."

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