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Remembering Bob Skinner

I met Bob Skinner in 1964 at one of his first auctions in Harvard, Massachusetts. He helped me load a Silas Hoadley tall case clock into my car. At $85, it was a big purchase for a 17-year-old! I worked for Bob Skinner that summer, and again after graduating from Wellesley High School. After I joined the Navy, Nancy Skinner wrote to me regularly with updates on Bob’s antique adventures. When I returned home, a job was waiting for me in Bolton, Massachusetts.

Bob Skinner

Bob Skinner on the podium

I have many fond memories of traveling throughout New England, and south to New York and Pennsylvania with Bob, visiting antique shops. I can see Bob now driving with the window open no matter what the temperature, cigarette in hand, singing pop songs (often improvising the lyrics!) in the manner of Nat King Cole and Vaughn Monroe.

Antique dealers scattered throughout the countryside played an important role in informing Bob’s aesthetic: Mary Allis, Pam Boynton, Robert Cleaves, Henry Coger, Billy Graham, Richard Mills, Horace Porter, Marguerite Riordan, Bill Samaha, Peggy Schorsch…legendary pickers including the McCaffreys and O’Donnells…I could never list them all.

As he did business with these men and women, he learned to love country furniture with great old paint and surface, early American wrought iron, folk art, wooden ware, painted tin, and children’s miniature furniture and objects. At the time, this material was plentiful and affordable to a man who was buying on a budget, necessitated by a frugal wife and young family. His love and keen eye for simple, beautiful country antiques brought him and Nancy great joy. Among the many things that they collected over the years, a few of the pieces that Nancy felt she could part with will be offered at our American Furniture & Decorative Arts auction on October 28, 2012.

We attended hundreds of country auctions in New England, and later in New York, where he honed his business sense, style of auctioneering, and auction philosophy, learning from his friends Bill Stahl and William Doyle. Bob was a straightforward, honest man with a fierce entrepreneurial spirit that led him to build from the ground up a city-style auction company in the country. Since the early 1960s, the company went from having one full-time employee (me) to over 100. And in 1984, the year of Bob’s passing, Skinner was on the cusp of tremendous growth. Years later, we continue to be inspired by his vision.

9 thoughts on “Remembering Bob Skinner

  1. Steve,
    That was fun to read. Funny coincidence since I just emailed you this afternoon re the missing shelf for the ship weathervane. We will think of you as we enjoy seeing the ship on the slate wall surrounding the fireplace. Actually, we are sort of pleased that it never did sell!!!
    We leave for Florida for the winter next Friday, and wanted you to know we did enjoy working with you.


  2. Great stor,y Steve. I can remember being a little kid out under the tent at the auctions in Bolton. It is amazing to think about how far you all have come. Amazing!

  3. I found this today and was touched, indeed! He was
    quite a dynamo, and fully able to bring in a dynamo that
    could do his job and more! He was, therefore, a courageous, and
    brilliant business person. And his luck in finding you,
    brought great luck to the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown because of
    your amazing & generous volunteering as auctioneer
    and helping to create a major success for the FAWC auction for over 20 years.
    AND FURTHER, that your volunteering led to your now ongoing participation in the
    arts of Provincetown. You are a gift in every way to all of us who care about the
    ongoing strength of the arts in Provincetown. Thank you to you, and to Bob Skinner.
    Gratefully, Berta

  4. Steve what a nice read. I met you and Bob both back in 1973. I was 17 and aspiring to be an antique dealer. Even as a kid both of you always treated me the same as all of the “big” customers. It was appreciated! I use to skip school on Fridays my senior year to come to the sales! It was time well spent! I have a miniature Tole document box that I bought from Bob probably in ’73. It is one of my favorite things. I have so many memories of the various sales, the first catalogued sale, the Lloyd Cabot Briggs” collection. Bob always inspired me to learn more. I remember Bob taking me up into his office to show me a Seymour tambour desk that had just come in. His enthusiasm was contagious. I cant tell you how many times I have shared words of wisdom given me by Bob with other young dealers coming up the chain. I only wish they could have known him. I am a better person and dealer for having known both you and Bob. Every time I buy a historic flask I think of him. Like Ray and Carrie and Joe and Anne and so many others, some people just leave a lasting impression on us, Bob left one on me.
    Sincerely, Dave

  5. Steve,
    Thanks for the “rememberance”. Met Bob in the 70’s while bringing up family in Sudbury. Thursday night auctions were my salvation and strength: More exciting and informative than anything else. Bob was my standard for the auction world – open, enthusiastic and thoroughly honest. Thanks to you and Gloria for remaining part of the “Dream Team”.

  6. Steve that was great to read , it brought back alot
    Of memories of the seventies
    I remember being with my dad and billy
    Graham I was a teenager and late into
    The night after an evening auction
    Bob left us all in the gallery that night
    With the door locked while he ran to
    Do a night deposit
    And then the three of them talked
    Into the night for it seemed like a very long
    They may have had a scotch or two
    Can’t remember
    He was a great man always a gentleman
    Certainly skinners was an inspiration
    In my life, attending auctions in my early
    John mcinnis

  7. Just a note to let you know, I remember you, Steve working for Bob years ago. We attended his auctions and our home of fully decorated furniture etc. was catalogued and sold by his auction gallery.

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