Sam W. Pattison Rea, 90, auctioneer on Howard St. for several decades

April 22, 2003|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Sam W. Pattison Rea, a venerable Baltimore auctioneer and appraiser whose auctions were a mainstay of Howard Street for more than 50 years, died of cardiac arrest Saturday at Manor Care Ruxton. The Guilford resident was 90.

"Generations of Baltimoreans have exited 407 N. Howard St., carrying stuff they never intended to buy," said a 1988 article in The Evening Sun. "Over the years, electric fans, bad paintings, framed prints of the cathedral at Amiens, mahogany chiffoniers, orange juice glasses, Stieff repousse flatware, encyclopedia sets, Haviland or Limoges dinner services, Potthast sideboards and rusty lawnmowers have all gone under his hammer."

Mr. Rea was born and raised in Howardsville, Baltimore County, and graduated from Polytechnic Institute in 1931.

His mother was the housekeeper for Sam W. Pattison, who owned an auction business that he had established in 1893.

At 18, Mr. Rea began learning the business from Mr. Pattison, and after Mr. Pattison's death in 1944, he took over as owner of Sam W. Pattison & Co.

"He was willing to auction almost anything. He often said he wouldn't sell food or livestock but would consider anything else," said a son, Sam W. Pattison Rea Jr. of Chevy Chase.

For 55 years, until he retired in 1988, Mr. Rea put out his red "Auction Today" flag to signal his weekly Thursday auction. In the jammed gallery, he presided over the final disposition of the worldly chattels of the known and unknown.

Mr. Rea was tall, courtly and heavyset, his pink, chubby face highlighted by dark-framed glasses and a carefully trimmed mustache. He seemed to always exude an avuncular gregariousness.

He was a conservative dresser but favored diamond horseshoe stickpins to anchor his neckties. He wore a custom felt Stetson in winter and broad-brimmed Panamas in summer.

A devoted cigar smoker, he often puffed one of his favorite Punch or Antonio y Cleopatra double-claro cigars before opening bidding. Once he started, his rich, deep baritone voice kept up a steady patter until the last item had found a buyer.

He was called to appraise the possessions of President Dwight D. Eisenhower and his wife, Mamie, after their deaths, and he auctioned the estates of Rosa Ponselle and Glenn L. Martin.

During his long career, he also auctioned the furnishings, dishes and knickknacks from such famous hostelries as the Rennert in Baltimore and Carvel Hall in Annapolis, and from Guilford mansions, Eastern Shore estates and Baltimore rowhouses.

Perhaps one of the strangest auctions he conducted featured the possessions of Emma A. Kefalos, a Baltimore spiritualist whose 1949 murder in her Fleet Street home was never solved.

"There was some furniture and clothes, but the bulk of it seemed to be things like magic books and ornaments, love potions, incense, spirit candles and something called `graveyard dust,'" he told the old Sun Magazine in a 1972 article. "In order to determine value, we had to consult experts in spiritualism. It was really wacky, but everything sold pretty well."

Jimmy Judd, owner of Amos Judd & Son Inc., a Howard Street antiques dealer and a friend for 50 years, recalled Mr. Rea's popularity:

"There was no better auctioneer nor more honest than Sam Pattison Rea. Every dealer loved him because he had some of the best antiques in Baltimore. He had a knack for getting the best antiques. Anybody who collected great antiques was at his auctions. People would come from New York City, Philadelphia, Washington and Virginia to attend them."

Francie George, whose parents owned the famous, art-cluttered Haussner's Restaurant in Highlandtown, were regulars at the auctions.

"He was a really good customer of the restaurant," she said yesterday. Her parents "bought lots and lots and lots of stuff from him, including paintings, silver, sculpture, furniture and porcelains," she said.

"He was definitely a mainstay of Howard Street and the last of the old-time auctioneers," said Rob Ross Hendrickson, a Baltimore attorney.

Mr. Rea was a member of two eating clubs, the Crustaceans and the Baltimore Crab Club.

"The Lexington Market was a favorite, given his love of Maryland cooking and particularly its seafood," the son said.

He was a member of the Baltimore Country Club, where he liked to golf.

Mr. Rea was a communicant of Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church, Baltimore and Ware avenues in Towson, where a memorial Mass will be offered at 11 a.m. tomorrow.

Mr. Rea is also survived by his wife of 51 years, the former Betty Ann Kimmett; two other sons, John O. Rea of Randallstown and Kevin A. Rea of Baltimore; two daughters, Claire Ann Rae of Alexandria, Va., and Deborah Ann Rae of Randallstown; a sister, Marie Rae Crump of Bowie; and three grandchildren. His first wife, the former Katherine O'Mara, died in 1951.

Sun staff writer Jacques Kelly contributed to this article.

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