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Jonathan Soroff Curates The Gentleman's Auction

Skinner is delighted to have Jonathan Soroff, The Improper Bostonian‘s lead columnist and noted gentleman-about-town, curate this edition of The Gentleman’s Auction online, open for bidding through June 8. His vision takes us on a broad aesthetic adventure, through elegance and refinement all the way to whimsy and curiosity. We are pleased to present Jonathan’s inspired take on all things “Gentleman.” 

Jonathan Soroff writes: When Chris Barber explained to me that he was organizing a series of “gentleman’s auctions” and asked if I’d like to curate one, there was absolutely no hesitation in saying “yes.” I love auctions. Not only are they the closest you can come to obtaining true market value, but their inherent drama and the interactive competitiveness lend them drama and excitement. Chris and I met for lunch to discuss the types of objects I envisioned for “my” auction, and I explained that anything to do with travel, games, drinking, men’s fashion and antiquities/artifacts were the sorts of things I am drawn to and actually collect myself. Next came the fun part: a visit to Skinner’s warehouse in Marlborough, where I spent a fantasy afternoon “shopping” — i.e., picking out the items from among the thousands of objects that have been consigned to Skinner for sale. The whole experience has been delightful, and I truly want every single thing in this collection. 

“Pieces From All Over the World”

Travel is essential to me. To understand and experience the world and other cultures has, since a very early age, been central to my education and formation as a human being. As Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice.” I find myself drawn to the less developed and more remote parts of the world for their natural beauty and serenity. For those reasons, pieces from Africa, Asia and Oceania always speak to me deeply. East Africa (Kenya and Tanzania in particular) are places that I will always return to again and again, while Asia, Oceania and South America are also among my favorites. In my home, I have a “Jungle Room” decorated with African masks and carvings, indigenous artifacts, Asian textiles, and pieces from all over the world. Sitting there and seeing a visual travelogue of the countries I’ve visited is the next best thing to being there, (lots 3091-3099).

Barware that might “Get a Serious Workout”

I am probably a bigger drinker than my doctor would like me to be, and I’ve always loved fine barware. The Steuben glasses are absolutely beautiful, while the bar-mounted wine opener would get a serious workout in my house. The antique flasks (3031-3033), with their dents and patina, many of them monogrammed, each tell a story, and judging by how many of them seemed to have been in use during wartime, those stories are undoubtedly dramatic. As I’ve always maintained: A good flask will keep you warm on a cold night. And I imagine these saw some very cold nights, indeed.

Lighters to Brandish

I quit smoking years ago, and the thing I miss most about it is the stage business. When I smoked cigarettes and cigars, I did it like a 1930s film star—Humphrey Bogart or Bette Davis; take your pick. Brandishing a beautiful lighter is especially gratifying, and I sometimes still carry one when I know that I’ll be around smokers.

“Primal and Atavistic”

I’ve also always been drawn to objects made from bone. There’s something primal and atavistic about them. The boar’s tusk cigar cutter and the bone or horn snuff box appeal to me for that reason (as does the purely decorative scrimshaw whalebone). They transport me back to a time of discovery and romance before mankind realized that natural resources are not unlimited and that slaughtering animals wholesale for their skins or skeletons was cruel. That era might have been misguided, but it had its charm. And for the record: I have no intention of giving up the bone objects that I own.

Rings: “The Bigger, the Better”

When it comes to jewelry, I’m a big believer in more is more and the bigger, the better. The trick is to wear it without looking like a wannabe rapper, a cheesy gangster, or a carnival barker. Each of these rings (in Lots 3133-3136) has some point of interest, and while large, they’re unusual enough that they’re more likely to provoke interest than disdain.

“Put Up or Shut Up”

I collect games from around the world. My backgammon and cribbage boards are English, My Mah Jong set is from Hong Kong, and I learned to play the East African game Bao from a bartender on the beach in Zanzibar. I have dice games from Chile, A Hawaiian checkerboard, and gold-plated deck of cards from Dubai. I believe that the games played by a culture say something about them as a society. This set of poker chips says, “Put up or shut up.”

“Status Symbols Bother Me. Statement Pieces do not.”

While I like a lot of costume in my clothing, I make a habit of not wearing labels, except when the item in question is so unique that it transcends the fact that I’m providing free advertising to some luxury brand that people covet, though I don’t know why. Status symbols bother me. Statement pieces do not. The blue crocodile Gucci loafers are not only over the top, but they transport me back to the 1970s and the outrageous fashions from my childhood.

“The Eyes Have It”

The Great Gatsby is among my top 10 favorite novels, and the original cover displayed a pair of eyes amazingly similar to the optometrist’s sign. The box of glass eyeballs, meanwhile, appeals to my sense of the bizarre and macabre.

The Gentleman’s Desks

As a writer and an aesthete [and a gentleman! – Ed.], these objects (Lot 3011-3012) speak to me on every level. Not only do they look like a pleasure to use, with their elegant design and hidden compartments, but their age begs the question of who used them and what was written there.

I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.

Browse the Auction


Previews Information

Previews will be held in Skinner’s Marlborough gallery on June 5, 12PM-5PM, June 6, 10AM-7PM; June 7, 10AM-5PM. Free and open to the public, specialists will be on hand to answer questions. 

About Skinner

Skinner attracts top consignments and commands record-breaking prices in the international auction marketplace. With renowned expertise and extraordinary service, Skinner is the place for buyers, sellers and the passionately curious. Skinner appraisers are familiar faces on PBS’s 15-time Emmy Award-nominated ANTIQUES ROADSHOW. Visit us in Boston, Marlborough, New York or Miami, or online at https://www.skinnerinc.com.

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