Commentary

Saunders: This CIAA treasure trove fails to bring in big money at auction

bsaunders@newsobserver.comFebruary 26, 2014 

When you bid on storage sheds without ever looking inside them, you accept that you could end up with a bunch of junk.

Sometimes, though, you can end up with a treasure.

That’s what Jerry Perry of Raleigh ended up with two years ago when the shed on which he’d bid $750 contained items that a respected appraiser said could be worth $250,000 – not enough for a villa on the French Riviera, but at least enough to feather his retirement, Perry figured.

Ever seen the TV show “Storage Wars,” on which treasure hunters bid on storage sheds that have been left by the original renters? People like Perry bid on the sheds, contents unseen. You could find yourself with a bunch of old nudie magazines, broken lava lamps, one-armed Rock’em Sock’em Robots and mildewy baby clothes.

An important find

You could also become the owner of memorabilia that one respected appraiser ranked near the Emancipation Proclamation in importance – the original 1912 documents leading to the formation of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association.

That’s what Perry found last year at a storage unit on Capitol Boulevard.

When he came to my office last summer, collection in hand, Perry thought his find would make a good story. So did I, but I suggested we wait until CIAA tournament time, when interest in it was at its peak, when we could announce that he’d sold it for a lot of money to someone with an appreciation for the CIAA’s history.

In addition to the initial $750 he paid for the shed and its contents, Perry said he spent $8,000 for former Sotheby’s appraiser Leila Dunbar’s informed opinion. That’s a lot of cheddar for something left abandoned in a shed, but Perry’s fear of getting stuck was allayed when Dunbar told him she thought it might be worth a quarter-million bucks.

Other appraisers disagreed, arguing that figure was way too high.

Unfortunately for Perry, they were apparently right.

‘Not exactly’

I called Perry this week to ask whether the documents and memorabilia had auction paddles furiously waving as everyone vied for a genuine piece of history.

“Not exactly,” he said. “I got what I paid for it.”

On the Goldin Auctions website, you see that bidding on the stuff – which it identified as “an extensive collection of early documents relating to the foundation of the first ever all black college athletic conference” – started at $10,000 and ended at $11,500.

Say what? I called Goldin Auctions in West Berlin, N.J., to see if anyone there knew why such important stuff received only two bids. No one returned my call.

Dunbar, in her summary, ranked the originally named Colored Intercollegiate Athletic Association documents in African-American historical importance behind only the Emancipation Proclamation, an archive of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches and the bus on which Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat.

Goldin Auctions, in describing Perry’s find, wrote, “This historically important collection was assembled by Charles Holston Williams (1886-1978), one of the founders of CIAA” and athletic director at Hampton Institute, now Hampton University.

It included, Goldin wrote, minutes of the first meetings and “the original typewritten copy of the 1912 CIAA Constitution And By-Laws which established the basic tenets of the fledgling organization. … There is a complete run of original meeting minutes from 1913 to 1922; the only known group from this early period in existence.”

Talk about a look into history. It contained a CIAA tournament MVP watch, which Perry had appraised at $1,500. He kept that, he said.

The Goldin synopsis continued, “Incredibly, found in this vast archive are the original minutes from this historic February 2, 1912 meeting that created the CIAA.”

More incredibly, at least to me, is that not one current CIAA school nor alum was interested in buying the treasure trove of historical documents.

Oh, some wanted Perry to donate them, but none were willing to pay to own the documents, even when Perry said he suggested that they could all church up on the purchase – you know, combine their funds so they could jointly own it – nor when he dropped his asking price to $25,000, 10 percent of what Dunbar appraised it.

As I wrote earlier this week, CIAA schools are struggling financially – even as they hold their extravagant annual basketball bacchanalia known as the CIAA tournament in Charlotte this week – and perhaps none felt it could afford the documents. Maybe not individually, but collectively they could have. Since I was unable to reach representatives of the schools, I won’t repeat how dismissive Perry said most were of what he found.

I will, though, repeat what Santayana said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

I suspect the same can be said of those who don’t value their past.

Saunders: 919-836-2811 or bsaunders@newsobserver.com

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