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When the auctioneer announced lot 51, hands flew into the air. The piece—Reverend Peter J. Gomes’s own Harvard College chair, which he received in honor of 25 years of service to the University—sold for $2,600, thirteen times its appraised value.
Along with 549 other lots, the chair was auctioned off on Saturday at the estate sale of the late Reverend Peter J. Gomes, Harvard’s longtime Pusey Minister and Plummer Professor of Christian Morals.
Gomes, oft-described as Harvard’s spiritual leader, died on Feb. 28, 2011 at age 68 from a brain aneurysm and heart attack.
During his three and a half decades as Pusey minister, Gomes reached beyond Harvard’s gates, rising to national prominence as a gay black Republican minister. Gomes wrote several bestselling books and delivered prayers at the inaugurations of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush.
The auction, which was held at Grogan and Company in Dedham, Mass., drew Gomes’ longtime acquaintances as well as antique collectors. For many, it was another opportunity to celebrate the life of the late minister and to walk away with a piece to remind them of Gomes.
Trevor A. Potter ’78, a former usher in Memorial Church and an old friend of Gomes, traveled from Virginia to attend the auction. Potter said that the auction was an opportunity to catch up with the Memorial Church community from his undergraduate days.
“Peter was an old friend. I’ve known so many of the objects in the sale,” said Potter, who garnered national attention as the attorney for Stephen Colbert’s Super PAC. “All of Peter’s friends would like to come home with something.”
Andrew F. Saxe ’84 walked away with one of the more sought-after items—a mahogany sideboard.
“This piece is more sentimental. It’s part of Peter’s persona,” Saxe said of his new acquisition. “It’s strange to see everything here. Every piece has a little bit of emotion behind it. That’s the value of [this] piece.”
According to Grogan and Company President and Chief Auctioneer Michael B. Grogan, Gomes had eclectic collecting tastes. His collection included everything from lamp stands to religious icons to 19th century portraits of English royalty.
“He really was not a collector in the sense of seeking out rare and important things,” said Grogan. “He found things that were interesting in design.”
The most expensive item, a gilt metal and crystal chandelier, went for $6,000 while the least expensive, a chromolithograph, sold for $30.
In his search for unique pieces, Gomes was not a stickler for quality or physical condition.
“Good, come with some Elmer’s Glue,” joked Grogan after pounding the gavel for a Victorian chair in less than mint condition.
The Gomes auction, Grogan said, was like no other held at his auction house. The crowd, packed into a large room overflowing with antiques, was the largest that Grogan had seen in 20 years.
Maryellen Washienko, a regular attendee of Grogan and Company’s auctions, noticed a difference in the tone of the audience.
“The auction was very quiet and respectful. Peter’s quiet persona was watching over the individuals purchasing,” she said. “I was so happy to be here and delighted to be in the company of the group.”
At the end of the estate sale nothing remained—an unusual occurrence at the Grogan and Company auction house.
“Most of our buyers are professionals, dealers, and collectors. This was different. Half of these people were brand new to the auction,” Grogan said. “From our perspective it brought a lot new people to the arena.”
The auction raised more than $350,000 dollars. The proceeds will go to Gomes’s alma mater, Bates College.
—Staff writer Matthew M. Beck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Justin C. Worland can be reached at email@example.com.
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