November 1, 1919
Page 15

Watching the Motley Crowd at the Auction Sale of the Impresario’s Music and Art Trophies—Like a Parody of the Company’s Other Days

HUNNERANTWENTYFIVE—hunnerantwenty-five—nothin’ finer in this entire country today—don’t I hear more than hunnerantwcntyfive—” inflectionless wails the auctioneer. The last curtain is being rung down on the drama entitled: “Oscar Hammerstein; His Life and Works,” in a stage setting composed of bronzes, paintings, chairs, tables, statues, tapestries and humans various.
Very various they are; I think every type of person in our New York has contributed his or her wandering presence to the Broadway auction room this goldenest of October afternoons. Blonde ladies of pronounced and frescoed portent inspect the jewels in their glass case, and pass on their settings, age, genuineness and other qualifications; beside me, a dark greasy youth diligently chews gum. Wrist-watched, fur-collared, opulent, pompadoured, the young man next him holds a catalogue and languidly bids at intervals. He must be doing it for a sort of exercise, in technique, it may be; for nothing ever is knocked down to him. With a triumphant swish to her skirt, a woman of acquisitive demeanor passes down the aisle and out. She has just bought something, and her skirts and her eyes say: “Wonderful bargain. Wait till my husband sees it.” Over in the corner opposite me, a fair-haired man with glasses and of a Teutonic stolidity watches the proceedings as being afraid they might get away.
We all have the air of the chorus in the opera. We look about us languidly while the auctioneer declaims his aria in a continuous recitative. Beside him on his little dais sits a gray-haired man, who holds a book, as it might be the prompter. He is really entering each sale; but he falls in with my errant fancy. Once I thought I heard the orchestral accompaniment; but it was only the noise of Broadway. And somewhere in the wings is sitting Oscar, in his old kitchen chair; and when the scores that be gathered together with such care and patience and with such splendid hopes go for such pitifully small sums in their new titles of “Lot 125G,” “Lot 1206” or what not, I am sure Oscar smiles his old faintly amused smile at this opera bouffe we call Life.
Old Friends There
Old friends and old rivals of the dead man arc here in this queer parody of other times. Andres de Segurola, monocled and amiable; Giuseppe Bamboschek, eye-glassed, scholarly-looking; William Thorner, creator of prima-donnas; Mapleson, court of last resort in matters of music-lore. The dead man’s widow is here also.
The music-sale is over. Comes a short argument between a sharp-eyed man and the auctioneer as to whether the marble copy of the Venus de Medici does or does not lack a finger. The attendant, inspecting, re-ports: “Absolootely perfect”; and “Absolootely perfect—absolootely perfect”—chants the auctioneer by way of varying his song. “Lotsa seats up front,” says the attendant wearily. He sees possibly more of human nature than anyone outside of tailors and doctors, and to judge from his expression, he doesn’t like the view. He particularly objects to females coming there and scribbling in little books. It looks suspicious to him; he thinks probably I am in the pay of his rivals. Not that he has any; but what would business be without real or imaginary rivals in New York?
The supper scene in “Louise” comes to one’s mind, with Oscar’s splendid realistic staging; with the clatter of plates. (They are selling the plates now.) And the time long ago, when something (no one ever knew what) happened during that scene to upset Mary Garden’s gravity when she sat at supper with her Mother (Bressler-Gianoli) and her Father (Gilibert) and the two women laughed helplessly all through Gilibert’s aria, until the audience laughed with them. How Oscar raged! Now three out of that four can compare notes over the joke; only Louise is with us still.
A Motley Crowd
A young couple comes in with the look of those whose wedding presents have not done what was expected of them; obviously, these are here with the intent to pick up something to finish the furnishing of the flat. “Three dollars each!” finishes the auctioneer on so high a note that I involuntarily listen for applause. Swiftly he turns this versatile one, to high comedy. “Oh, all right!” he remarks, when the demand is made to “have the plates passed around.” “Show ‘em to your father and your mother and your sister an’ the whole family, an’ then buy ‘em for a dollar ‘n a half!” But they only bring one dollar. Enter a young girl, whom I suspect to be a rising prima donna. She makes straight for the jewel case, and I know I am right. Diligently, though far from home and food, the tortoise-shell-glassed dark man across the aisle chews a toothpick. They have reached the wine-glasses now and I am at the Omar Khayyam stage:
“They say the Lion and the Lizard Keep The Halls where Jamshi Gloried and Drank Deep,”
But the youth behind me takes a different view. “What c’n ye drink out of ‘em in this darn dry burg?” queries he, bitterly.
The kaleidoscope shifts continually. Taking the center of the aisle in true heroic tenor fashion, is a tall, stout young man. He wears a soft hat at the regulation Faust or Romeo angle, and his check suit like the garb of the jeune premier. Momentarily one expects him to fling the tail of the coat sternly over his left shoulder. A very well-dressed man with a singularly bad complexion asks the price of jewels, and next me settles herself a fat woman of the operatic-mother variety. She looks like a contralto, somehow. A dignified gray-haired woman with a firm air of business and the right of eminent domain over the stout man with her passes up the aisle, looking not to right or left and vividly they bid on dining-room chairs.
The auctioneer’s song ends, temporarily. Attendants are re-arranging the scenery now for the last act, the disposing of jewels and rugs. The furniture is gone; the pictures have each received their tribute of commiseration from the auctioneer as they go at prices that he professionally calls a crime. We sit about, as waiting for our cues. The twilight falls and as I go out in the dusk, I stumble over what looks like an old kitchen chair.


Search Musical America's archive of photos from 1900-1992.