A large and eclectic collection of mementos from Johnson City’s past will be up for grabs this weekend as the final, choice pieces from the estate of the late Frank Tannewitz Jr., a beloved Johnson City educator and avid collector of relics of the region’s history, are sold at auction.
“I’ve seen a lot in my 30 years (of auctioneering) but Frank had it,” Kimball Sterling, owner of Kimball Sterling Inc. Auctions and Gallery, said Friday as a small crowd of potential buyers combed over the sale items. “Every oddball item you can think of. I look at it every day and every time I look I find something else I’ve never seen before.”
The auction will begin at 1 p.m. Sunday at the gallery at 125 W. Market St. Doors will open at 10 a.m. for a final preview of the sale the gallery has spent months preparing for.
“This is (Tannewitz’s) better history stuff,” Sterling said. “We sold his coins and the stuff from the house but we kept the best of it to sell here.”
The collection includes trade tokens, promotional items, advertising and photos from such fabled downtown establishments as the John Sevier and Windsor hotels. There’s national currency printed by local banks, including the Unaka National Bank of Johnson City, a medicine bottle from the Tennessee Medicine Co. of Johnson City, ice block tongs forged at the Johnson City Foundry and a collection of small tools from Embreeville Iron Works.
There are city directories that date back to the early 1900s and small mementos from favorite downtown locales ranging from a tiny matchbook from Liggett’s Drugs to a gallon crock jug from Big Spring Saloon that Sterling said may be worth $300.
Historical documents include a 1783 property transfer signed by John Sevier and Tennessee Governor W.G. Brownlow’s 1866 report to the state legislature. There’s Confederate currency and bonds, political buttons, postcards, stamps and coins. “It goes on and on,” Sterling said.
There are dozens of engravings of Civil War officers, a cabinet photo of Clara Barton, a large collection of local history books and an even larger collection of sports memorabilia from the original Science Hill High School and Johnson City High School that preceded it, from East Tennessee State Normal School and from the University of Tennessee.
And then there are the dozens of scrapbooks that Sterling said Tannewitz filled with anything and everything that struck him, from 1919 to 1990, and with no apparent rhyme or reason.
Sterling said the choice items will be sold individually and the rest will go in lots.
“There will be battles over some of this stuff and it doesn’t have to be valuable. Even the $5 items are hard to find,” he said.