Monday, December 5, 2011


Today, as I prepared to notify readers of this new entry on "Where in the World Is the Box?" I learned that Lester Breininger, who figures prominently in this entry and others on this blog, had died on Saturday, December 3, at home at the age of 76. Many of you know Lester or knew of him. He will be greatly missed.

It's been quite a while since I worked on this blogsite. That's because I have been too busy going places and doing things so I could write about them on the blog! So, let's play catch-up.

On Saturday, November 12, Erik, a friend from the Historical Society board of directors (and a college classmate of my son Matt) and I went to Downingtown in southeastern Pennsylvania to attend an auction of the collection of folk art and antiques belonging to Barbara and Lester Breininger, friends of mine who live in Robesonia, Berks County. Lester has unfortunately been afflicted with Alzheimer's Disease and has had to stop producing the Pennsylvania German-style pottery that we have collected for many years.

Lester had also amassed an amazing collection of 18th and 19th century objects like pewter, silver, pottery, coverlets, furniture, paintings, lighting devices, and even Indian arrowheads. It was part of this collection that was on sale at an auction house called Pook and Pook near Downingtown. The list is almost endless, numbering nearly 1,000 objects.

Erik drove his Jeep, which was quite an adventure in itself. We arrived in time for Erik to register (he was determined to get some paper documents from Lester's collection -- and did!) and to look around at the nearly 1,000 objects for sale. We had both seen some of them in Barbara and Lester's wonderful old house in Robesonia. It was bittersweet to see them on sale as Lester loved collecting and preserving these things. He was adamant, however, that they pass on to other private owners and not into museums, where they might be rarely seen.

The Reading, Pa., newspaper reported that proceeds from the sale would allow Lester to remain in his beloved home during the long term of his illness. Did I mention that the auction realized $2.15 million?

While I did not purchase anything, I did buy a catalog, a real treasury of photos and descriptions of the Breiningers' tremendous collection. When it was time to leave, Erik paid his bill and helped to wrap up the framed documents he had bought.

The day after the auction, I went to church and then down Front Street to the John Harris-Simon Cameron Mansion to oversee the start of "Second Sunday," the one Sunday each month the mansion is open for tours. I had suggested trying Sundays instead of Saturdays (there was virtually no visitation on Saturdays) and that local craftspeople be recruited to display their work and demonstrate their skills. On November 13, Alan Garner, president of Volunteers of America in Pennsylvania and an outstanding woodworker, set up shop and showed visitors how the Shakers made wooden oval boxes in the 19th and early 20th centuries. There were a number of visitors, and they enjoyed Alan's presentation.

Alan showed how strips of wood were heated in water to make them pliable and then bent around oval-shaped molds. The ends of the strips, when formed, were tacked together with brass tacks. Alan has made boxes for several famous Pennsylvanians. You heard who if you watched the video!

I had to leave early because I was invited to attend a performance by the Central Pennsylvania Oratorio Society at Market Square Church. Our organist/choir director is the director of that group, too, and some of our choir members sing in the group. It was a very good performance and featured the debut of a "portative" or "continuo" organ the church had acquired in memory of the previous musician, the late Dr. Pierce Getz. There was a nice applause at the end for the choir, soloist from New York City, and orchestra. The organ becomes the newest instrument in the church's collection, which includes an Aeolian-Skinner/Moeller pipe organ, a harpsichord, and a Steinway grand piano.

From the Breininger auction at Pook and Pook:

 The crowd begins to gather for the auction.

 This is an early plate made by Barbara and Lester.
It sold for more than $2,000.
There was a full house while the auction
was in full swing.

Look at all the historic redware -- 
just sitting there!

This mid-19th century redware plate sold
for $2,015. It's from Montgomery County.

This green blanket chest reminds me of the one we have
inside our front door.

My daughter Sarah contacted Lester one year at Christmas
and asked him to choose a piece to send to me.
He chose this dog, which he had replicated from
the antique seen in the catalog behind it.

Here is a photo of the Breiningers from
the introduction to the catalog.

From the woodworking demonstration at "Second Sunday:"

Forming the oval body of the box.
 These boxes were the Tupperware of their day,
holding all sorts of objects.

 A local television station filmed Alan's presentation.

This stack shows the variety of sizes Alan makes.

These brass tacks are hard to come by.

Visitors enjoy touring the house and seeing this
extra added attraction.

From the oratorio performance:

Church member and well-known organist Ellen Hunt
played the new continuo organ, which was built
in Hungary.

String players relax during the intermission.

 My friend Wilmer, a big fan of 
"Where in the World is the Box?",
attempts to communicate
telepathically during the intermission.
It turns out he was transmitting,
"Do not take my not take my picture..."

 Eric Riley directs the Oratorio Society and orchestra
in the second part of the concert.

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