Lambuth University (Tenn.) to Close Its Doors, Property to Be Sold at May 28 Auction

A monumental portrait of Thomas Brown, Esq., painted in 1796 by William McCullough, will be among the property of Lambuth University, a small liberal arts school located about midway between Memphis and Nashville, that is closing its doors. A sale of the university’s property will be held Saturday, May 28, in the Student Union Building.

JACKSON, Tenn. – It isn’t often that an institution of higher learning sells off most of its holdings and closes its doors for good, but that’s exactly what is about to happen at Lambuth University, a small liberal arts school located about midway between Memphis and Nashville. A sale of the university’s property will be held Saturday, May 28, in the Student Union Building.

And the offerings will be considerable. Auctioned will be a wide variety of merchandise from the school’s 168-year history, to include magnificent antiques, important works of art, rare and vintage books (some dating back as far as 1800), wonderful period furniture, several fine pianos, Persian rugs, decorative accessories and one-of-a-kind items in an array of categories.

These will include a sizable bronze bell (signed and dated 1822), a marble bust of a Victorian girl (16 inches tall, circa 1860), a mahogany Victorian-era Victrola in good working condition (circa 1920), a 1796 early map of Tennessee, a rare antique microscope, a large group of vintage wedding dresses, an antique wheelchair, a folding portable stage and a pair of safes.

“The school struggled financially following the economic crisis of 2008 and just never recovered,” said Dwight Stephens, owner of Stevens Auction Company, which is conducting the auction. “Throughout 2009 and 2010, faculty and staff resolutely endured weeks, even months, without pay.” Trustees voted to close the school effective June 30 of this year.

Proceeds from the sale will be used to help faculty and staff provide educational services for a projected 77 summer 2011 graduates. Sales will ensure that those who have fought so hard and diligently for the school will be able to end their tenure with dignity. The auction will begin at 10 a.m., with an open house preview planned for Friday, May 27, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

A pre-sale preview will also be held on auction day, from 8 a.m. until the first gavel comes down. Many of the items to be sold may be viewed online. A free brochure is available by calling 662.369.2200. There will be no Internet bidding available, but telephone and absentee bids will be accepted.


This massive English walnut Georgian breakfront bookcase, Gothic style, was made circa 1790 and will be up for auction.

Furniture items will feature a massive circa-1790 English walnut Georgian breakfront bookcase, Gothic style, with Million glass doors (and the original glass). The piece is 18 feet long and 11 feet, 4 inches tall. Also sold will be a 16-foot-long mahogany conference table, 16 Queen Anne chairs, a rare model oak writing desk, and an oak church pew and communion table.

The books would excite even the most hard-core bibliophile. There are around 1,000—many of them leather-bound and rare first-editions. They include a first-edition work by Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) and volumes of poetry by greats such as Byron, Keats and Shelley. The books are so rare and fragile they’ve been kept locked away for the better part of a century.


This beautiful Steinway & Son concert grand piano, from the Lambuth University chapel, is just one of several pianos on the block.

The pianos will include a Steinway & Son concert grand piano from the chapel (serial # 404793D), a Steinway & Son parlor baby grand piano, a K. Kawai piano from the theater (serial # 242867), a Baldwin concert grand piano, a K. Kawai parlor grand piano (Model 650, serial # 271529) and a K. Kawai parlor grand piano. Also sold will be a practice organ in good condition.

The fine art will feature a monumental 1776 portrait of Thomas Brown, Esq., by William McCullough (Glasgow Academy); an unsigned oil painting of the early New York City skyline by Samuel Halpert (Am., 1884-1930), a pioneer of modern art in American (est. $30,000); an oil on canvas landscape by G.B. Sticks (Br., 1834-1898), titled “Loch Kathrine Sunset” (1876); an oil on canvas of a woman and a mule by L. Meyer (N.Y., 19th century); and other important works.

What is today Lambuth University began in 1843 as a small but significant women’s college geared mainly toward women in the Jackson and Memphis areas. It was founded by the Memphis Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Eighty years later, men were allowed to enroll, thus broadening Lambuth’s educational reach and community impact.


Around 1,000 rare antique books will be sold, many of them leather-bound and first-editions.

Through steadfast stewardship of early leaders at the newly co-educational institution, Lambuth continued to expand not only its campus size but its athletic activities and academic offerings, including one of the few planetariums in the South. It is unclear what will become of the buildings and grounds once the school closes, but word is negotiations are underway with a large area university to acquire it and turn it into a satellite campus. But no deal has been made.

The Lambuth University Student Union Building is located at 705 Lambuth Boulevard in Jackson, Tenn., about a half-mile west of US Highway 45 (also known as North Highland Ave.).

Terms of the auction will be cash, major credit cards and pre-approved checks. All sales will be final, with no warranty expressed or implied. A 12-percent buyer’s premium will be charged on each total purchase price, with a 2-percent discount for cash, business and personal checks with proper ID and wire transfers. A 7-percent sales tax will apply to most purchases.

For more information about this auction, call 662.369.2200, e-mail to or visit the Stevens Auction Company web site.


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  1. Joan Leggett says:

    Re Lambuth University painting “Thomas Brown Esq. by William McCullough 1796”. As a descendant of Thomas Brown I was excited about this. Thomas Brown was scalped and tortured in the American War of Independence and the painting (of the older man of two) has clear signs of scars on his forehead and scalp. A couple of weeks ago the painting, front and back, was photographed in Charleston by the art dealer who bought it in the Lambuth sale 2011. There’s writing (looks too fresh to be 18th century) on the back claiming the portrait is of Thomas Broun of Braid 1776 by the artist Arch. McLachlan. Which is correct? Surely the auction catalogue couldn’t have been so wrong? Can anyone help with this mystery? I’d be very grateful for any ideas. Thanks. Joan (in Scotland)