Charlie Ham and Jeremy Teel, co-owners of Antique Rovers based in Montalba, Texas, thought they were going to catch their breath when they took a break from photographing the contents of the Seward Plantation in Independence, Texas. Instead, I peppered them with questions about their business and the upcoming auction billed as “The Sale of Three Centuries.”
Q: What does it feel like to touch history?
JT: An honor. This is a one-of-a-kind experience and opportunity. We feel honored that the Georges chose us to help them thoughtfully deal with this estate. We pride ourselves on our research and knowledge. American primitives are our forte, and early Texas primitives, which are relatively rare, are our particular favorites. We’ve seen things here we’ve never seen before.
RTR: Do you still get a rush when you walk on a property like this?
CH: Absolutely. This is likely the biggest rush in my career—and I’ve been involved with antiques for most of my 65 years. Samuel Seward arrived with Stephen F. Austin. His son John started the house in 1850, completed it in 1855 and it was in the family until June 2017. Do you have any idea how incredibly rare it is to see an intact material history of a family that spans six generations? It appears that the Sewards didn’t throw much away, so it is a time capsule that each succeeding generation added to.
RTR: When faced with a treasure trove, how do you help owners decide what to keep and what to sell?
CH: In a family estate we take into account emotional attachment. The Georges had no emotional attachment to anything here, but they have a deep respect for the property’s history and are intent on honoring the historical integrity. We’ve advised them to keep pieces that are unique to the plantation because they were made here, that are historically significant because the pieces are rare and things they simply like because this is their home and they should be surrounded by things they enjoy.
JT: We also tell clients not to throw anything away. Just because they don’t see the value of a particular piece doesn’t mean that someone else who attends the auction won’t. A collector of vintage footwear could get very excited over that box of dusty, worn 1920s ladies shoes that someone else thinks should be tossed.
CH: Exactly. We rescued eight corbels that had been tossed on the burn pile. Why did we save them? They were hand-made here on the plantation, likely soon after the Civil War. Cynthia is going to keep four to make a table, and we’re going to sell the other four.
RTR: The task of sorting seems overwhelming. How do you start?
JT: We pick a corner and work methodically from there. We don’t skip around and cherry pick because we don’t want to miss a single thing or have to backtrack.
RTR: How do you know what something is worth?
JT: We do research to establish baseline knowledge about what similar items have brought. It gives a potential range of prices. Of course, with one-of-a-kind things there is nothing to compare them to.
The excitement of an auction is that you never know exactly what is going to happen. The price will be determined by the demand for that item by that crowd. We don’t ever know the exact value of an item until the gavel falls because that’s what it brought on that day.
RTR: Why should people—collectors or not—come to this auction?
CH: First, people should come to be transported to early Texas. This plantation is listed as one of the top historical sites in Washington County, which is the county where Texas was born. It’s a rare opportunity to get a glimpse of Texas before the Civil War.
Second, people should come because an auction like this will not likely occur again in this century or the next. People almost never get the right to buy a whole quantity of pre-Civil War, Texas-made goods because it simply doesn’t come on the market. These items are virgin antiques, meaning that they’ve never passed through the hands of dealers—and the provenance is unquestionable.
Spectacular architectural remnants. People rarely get the chance to own logs hand-hewn by slaves because they’re incredibly rare and usually incredibly expensive. We have a whole pile of them.
In my career I’ve never seen a quadruple tree, a yolk that allows a farmer to put four horses abreast. We found four here. Three will be available for purchase along with innumerable triple trees, double trees and single trees.
This truly is an opportunity of a lifetime for anyone who loves Texas—and wants to own a piece of her history.
To get a peek at the history held in the Seward Plantation house through the eyes of writer Lorie A. Woodward, who was present as the family trunks were opened for the first time outside the family, click here. To learn why new owners Cynthia and Wiley George of Houston are committed to conserving the plantation, click here.
________________________________________________________________________ Photos by Round Top Register