Enthusiastic turnout for Milestone’s Aug. 29 auction of Brian Maiher collection of railroadiana, petroliana and antique fire alarms
Against strong phone and Internet competition, gallery bidders claimed 40% of sold items
WILLOUGHBY, Ohio – Those who knew the late Brian Maiher described him as one of the most passionate and astute collectors of railroadiana, petroleum-related memorabilia and fire-related antiques in the entire country. On August 29, Maiher’s many friends in the hobby, as well as fellow collectors who knew of him only by reputation, had the opportunity to bid on his extraordinary 40-year estate collection. Milestone Auctions hosted the event at their spacious suburban-Cleveland venue, where in-house attendees competed vigorously against a strong contingent of phone and Internet bidders. The final tally revealed that 40% of the winning bids had been placed by gallery guests, who were eager to claim their purchases and transport them home for immediate display.
“We had an excellent turnout and were very pleased with the results,” said Milestone Auctions co-owner Chris Sammet. The auction totaled $816,000, inclusive of buyer’s premium.
Every aspect of railroad culture could be found in the Maiher collection, including architectural relics. During his decades-long career as the owner of a demolition and salvage company, Maiher rescued countless structural and decorative appointments from the train stations, roundhouses and other structures that railroad companies had paid him to tear down. “His desire to preserve the material history of railroads was what led to his building a phenomenal collection that contained many one-of-a-kind objects pertaining to trains,” said Chris Sammet, co-owner of Milestone Auctions.
Railroad signage was an important part of the collection. The top-selling train station sign was a heavy red and gold-painted Pennsylvania Railroad sign for Bird In Hand, a historic colonial-era village in Lancaster County, Pa. Measuring an impressive 74 inches long, it attracted 80 bids and ultimately sold for $8,400, more than four times the high estimate of $2,000.
Needing no spotlight to make an auction impact, an extremely rare “220” headlight from the famous Yellowstone-type steam locomotive The Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range 2-8-8-4 (completed in 1941), rose to more than three times its high estimate. It garnered 73 bids before settling at $6,000.
Perhaps the surprise of the day came in the form of a marked “experimental” three-chime train whistle for the Norfolk & Western Railway. The extremely rare 27-inch-long piece drew 58 bids before selling for $11,100, more than five times the high estimate.
Once Brian had acquired everything he had ever wanted from the railroadiana category, he turned his attention to fire alarms, seeking out antique productions from as early as the 1860s. Of the 40 alarms in the sale, some were fitted with gongs or intricate mechanicals, while others had unusual shapes, which only added to their appeal. On auction day, the star of the fire category was a Gamewell Excelsior fire alarm transmitter with 50 code wheels. Housed in a handsome oak case with a beveled-glass front door, it was offered with a $3,000-$4,000 estimate and ended up selling for $7,800.
The last collecting category that captured Brian Maiher’s imagination, and one which he approached with missionary zeal, was petroliana. He amassed an enviable array of gas pumps and globes, signs, service station display racks – usually with their original motor oil bottles or cans intact – and other related items. Each aspect of the petroliana portion of Maiher’s collection met with success on auction day, with many lots receiving between 40 and 70 bids each.
An 84-inch-tall National Simplex clock-face gas pump that had been professionally restored in Independent Gasoline colors sold above high estimate for $7,200. An outstanding condition-9 example of a double-sided porcelain sign advertising Pennzoil, mounted on a Pennzoil cast-iron base, also sold well above estimate, for $5,040. The ever-popular Sinclair dinosaur mascot added charm and visual appeal to a red, white and green double-sided porcelain circular sign advertising the company’s Opaline Motor Oil. Measuring 23.5 inches in diameter and graded condition 8, it surpassed expectations in reaching $6,000. A colorful yellow and red ‘Mercury Made’ Sunoco Motor Oil bottle display accessorized with 24 oil bottles – most embossed with the make’s name – was graded 8 to 8.5. The lot breezed past its $3,000-$4,000 estimate to reach $6,300.
Milestone announces plans for expansion of venue
Milestone Auctions has enjoyed a significant uptick in its business since opening the doors to its purpose-built gallery/warehouse in July 2019. Now Chris Sammet and his business partner Miles King are setting the wheels in motion for a major expansion. “The number of sales we’re conducting has increased significantly, and so has the number of consignments. We need more space,” Sammet said. “In the near future, work will begin on a project to add 4,000 square feet to our existing 12,000 square feet of space. Fortunately, we own the property here and have plenty of room for expansion, so we decided to do it now rather than wait till lack of sufficient space becomes a problem. We’re excited that the expansion will allow us to do an even better job of serving our consignors and keeping all consigned goods securely stored on site.”
Editors: catalog may be viewed online at https://www.liveauctioneers.com/catalog/173514_brian-maiher-railroad-fire-and-petroliana/