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Where’s Will? – Militaria-Heavy Chattanooga Estate Sale

by Will Seippel (02/04/10).

One of the photos Will bought at the John Smickle estate sale in Chattanooga, Tenn., was this one showing Generals George S. Patton (left), George C. Marshall (trench coat), Omar Bradley (over Marshall’s shoulder) and Dwight D. Eisenhower (center), watching former concentration camp prisoners demonstrating tortures used on them.

One of the photos Will bought at the John Smickle estate sale in Chattanooga, Tenn., was this one showing Generals George S. Patton (left), George C. Marshall (trench coat), Omar Bradley (over Marshall’s shoulder) and Dwight D. Eisenhower (center), watching former concentration camp prisoners demonstrating tortures used on them.

WorthPoint CEO and President Will Seippel will be traveling to numerous antique and collectibles shows throughout 2010. He will Twitter where he’s going each week. Anyone who sees him there and comes up to say hello will receive a one-year CEO Club discount membership to WorthPoint. You’ll know it’s Will because he’ll be wearing a white WorthPoint polo shirt.

This is just a fraction of the merchandise available at the John Smickle estate sale.

This is just a fraction of the merchandise available at the John Smickle estate sale.

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – My trip into the collecting world this week was a tremendous event, as I traveled north from Atlanta to Chattanooga and the sale of the estate of John Smickle. For those of you that want to know the story behind the man, unfortunately, I do not fully know it. I did meet someone in the line that morning who knew him and told me John passed in his 50s. I did see some Smickle family World War Two documents in the sale, so I would have to assume that they belonged to his dad.

The first part of the Smickle sale was held three weeks ago. For those of you not familiar with the sale, John Smickle had one of the largest collections of stuff that I had seen in my life. Apparently, he bought a lot from estates and certainly bought more than he sold through the malls he would frequent. But I can say that he had a good eye and seemed to have a focus on militaria and old records, as they made up about two-thirds of the sale.

The first weekend of the sale was the militaria zenith, as there were more than 185 vintage World War One and WWII helmets available, some quite rare. Loose lips slipped, as several people actually slept out in zero degree weather the night before to be the first in line for numbers handed out at 4 a.m. I did not arrive until noon on the first day, and I knew the militaria would be picked hard by that time, but did not feel like leaving at 2 a.m. to get a ticket at 4.

By noon, the militaria was indeed picked hard, but there was still some phenomenal bargains to be had. For example I got a Gorham Joseph Bissell 1916 Gorham bronze plaque of Thomas Jefferson, in an Art & Crafts oak easel frame, for $60. George Bissell works start at several thousand dollars. Another favorite find of mine was a Carlisle Indian School Post card I picked up for $2. I bought several soldier scrapbooks and many other items that I have already turned around and sold, including WWII-era street propaganda posters from the Philippines.

One of the interesting pickups of the day was an ashtray made by an German Afrika Corps prisoner.

One of the interesting pickups of the day was an ashtray made by an German Afrika Corps prisoner.

The bottom of the ashtray is marked “PW Camp 126,” which was Mellands Camp, located in Gorton, Manchester, Lancashire, England.

The bottom of the ashtray is marked “PW Camp 126,” which was Mellands Camp, located in Gorton, Manchester, Lancashire, England.

Aside from the 185 helmets, there were scores of rare Nazi/SS collar insignias, a (disarmed) aerial bomb, a WWII cockpit canopy, and more than 10,000 WWII photos, which I was able to purchase the majority of them. In regard to the albums, there were more than 25,000 albums and the dealers noted they were cleaning up.

Given my success at the first day, I truly understood the breadth and depth of this sale and was eager for second part of the sale. Apparently, there were several more tractor-trailer loads of items to unload for Part II. I did not know what to expect but I had hoped it would be as good as Part I. I also vowed to get up early this time so I could arrive an hour or so before the doors opened to get a number and go have breakfast before getting down to business.

Planning is great, but reality often the killer. With a son and daughter to act as accomplices, we left my house as planned on Saturday morning at 6 a.m. I had thought about leaving the night before, but the snow/freezing rain anticipated in Tennessee was a concern. I was fortunate I thought about this decision as Interstate 75 was treacherous the night before and was actually closed for several hours. Driving up the next morning I could still see the abandoned cars on the shoulder of the freeway. We got to the sale an hour before it opened and was No. 3 in line! The only problem was they were not giving out numbers and I would have to wait out in the below freezing weather. I resigned my body to that fate and persevered for the next hour standing in a mix of snow and cold rain. The kids stayed in the car.

Another interesting pick includes this Pan Pacific Exposition medallion.

Another interesting pick includes this Pan Pacific Exposition medallion.

This pair of pre-war Japanese dolls was still in their original cardboard box.

This pair of pre-war Japanese dolls was still in their original cardboard box.

Alas, the Welch’s Antique and Estate Sales, the sale facilitator, held the doors until 9 a.m., sharp, and made sure that the lines were organized and no one cheated to get in early. Given the quality and fair pricing I saw at the previous sale, I immediately found the ephemera and took every stack of paper and photos and gently dumped them into boxes or bags. As I filled each box, my kids hauled them to the storage spot for check outs. This enabled me to work much faster, but I wasn’t sure about what all I was getting or what I was spending, but that did not matter; this was cool, unpicked stuff that my buyers would love (they get frustrated that I only have a virtual store and they can not come to a physical one.)

The next five hours that day were spent picking though John Smickle’s life collection and spending $3,700, mostly on “smalls.” It was quite a sale. My Grand Cherokee was so packed that I practically could not fit my son and daughter in to drive back with me.

The unique items abounded: WWII German POW African Corps-made ashtray; Howard Hughes Spruce Goose crew photo… The list goes on and on. I saw things I have never seen in my almost 40 years of selling.

Jo Welch of Welch’s Antique and Estate Sales of Chattanooga.

Jo Welch of Welch’s Antique and Estate Sales of Chattanooga.

Kim, another Welch employee.

Kim, another Welch employee.

Josh made sure everything was under control.

Josh made sure everything was under control.

The sale was run by Welch’s Antique and Estate Sales of Chattanooga. They run an extremely professional sale and I would use them as a seller. They have a friendly, knowledgeable staff and provide all kinds of bags and boxes to take things home, security . . . you name it. Their focus on detail is fantastic. For me, Chattanooga is now on my list of places to go, if they are running a sale. Thank you Jo and team.

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Will Seippel is the president and CEO of WorthPoint. Will has been an avid collector since 1974 and dealer of just about all things—with a emphasis on ephemera—antique since 1984.

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