Sunday, August 17, 2003

On the auction block: a lost Cincinnati

Cliff Radel's Cincinnati

Cliff Radel

Who will buy her memories? What price will they pay for her hometown treasures?

Phyllis Karp asked these questions as she sorted through her collection of Cincinnati memorabilia.

Come Tuesday, inside her family's 121-year-old Main Auction Galleries, her son, Jay, will bang down the gavel on her entire collection.

Going once, going twice, going three times, sold to the highest bidder will be items with Cincinnati ties. Some predate Phyllis Karp's July 15, 1917 birthday. Others, such as a mug commemorating the Reds winning the pennant in 1970, are of a much more recent vintage.

Each piece comes with a memory.

"And, thank God, at my age, I can remember them all," the 86-year-old Karp said as she sat in her catbird's seat on the balcony overlooking the auction house's main floor.

[IMAGE] Phyllis Karp and her Cincinnati memorabilia.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
| ZOOM |
She looked at her treasures, arrayed in display cases, and told their stories.

Wiedemann's Bohemian Beer in a miniature bottle. Cap still intact. Contents still bubbly.

"That's my favorite. As a little girl, I liked holding it and seeing the beer inside," she said.

A dance card from an 1892 charity ball at Music Hall. "My mother went to those functions, always got a program, always kept it." The card contains 24 spaces - still blank - to record a lady's dance partners. The slim pencil, attached by an even slimmer thread, remains sharp.

Werk's Tag Soap. One dirt-brown bar. In its original wrapper. "My brother-in-law bought that company. He didn't keep it. But I kept the soap." It was good for treating poison ivy."

Aug. 15, 1945 edition of The Cincinnati Enquirer. For four cents inquiring minds could read the stories under the banner headline: "War Ends As Japan Quits."

On that day, Karp, married with one child and one more on the way, went to work at her father's furniture store. "I picked up the paper. Oh, what a wonderful day it was."

What: Auction of Phyllis Karp's collection of Cincinnati memorabilia, including paper items, coin banks, pottery, boxes, plates, bars of soap, etc.

When: 10:30 a.m. Tuesday. Items can be previewed 8:30 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Monday and 8-10:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Where: Main Auction Galleries, 137 W. Fourth St., 621-1280.

Karp loves Cincinnati. She's proud of her hometown. As long as she can remember, she has been collecting, saving and preserving mementos of the Queen City. And the Reds in particular.

The home team will receive the bulk of her extensive collection of Reds souvenirs.

"I'm donating them to the ball club's museum," she said. "But I love my Reds so much, I had to put a few items related to them in the auction."

She's parting with these collectibles because she feels they need a new home.

"When I had a 10-room house, I had the collection on exhibit. I could see it every day," she said. "But, since I moved downtown to One Lytle Place 21 years ago, most of the items have been in boxes.

"I've loved these things. Now, someone else can love them."

Remnants of another era

Some of the pieces are related to still-thriving businesses. A 1915 Rookwood ashtray made for Western-Southern Life Insurance. A bar of Procter & Gamble's White Soap.

But, many of the names on the items in the collection belong to stores and buildings from a long-lost Cincinnati.

A 1915 calendar still in its leather binding from the Cincinnati Coffin Co. A thermometer compliments of Tennenbaum Bros. Furniture. Decorative boxes from Rollman's, Shillito's, Pogue's.

Karp smiled as she picked up the box from Pogue's.

"My wedding dress came from Pogue's," she said. "That was the epitome of a cultured downtown department store."

The collection includes a wealth of small, ornate, coin banks from defunct savings institutions such as the German National and the Pearl Market Bank. The latter coin bank, in the shape of a barrel, boasted that the Pearl Market was paying an interest rate of 4 percent.

"I'd take half that right now from my bank," Karp quipped.

A water jug engraved, "Hotel Sinton, 1928" stood next to a ceramic bottle that once held Christian Moerlein's Old Jug Lager Krug Bier.

"I remember these things with nostalgia," Karp said. "And with a pain in my heart for what has happened to downtown Cincinnati. We were so proud of our city. We loved Cincinnati.

"Now, the pride is gone. The love is gone. It hurts me. It's like a family destroyed in a war."

Karp plans to be on hand for Tuesday's auction. "If," she said, "the Lord spares me for another day."

She will see her old friends leave in the hands of new owners. She swears that will not be too tough to take.

"I've enjoyed every minute I've been around these things," she said. "But I've had this collection for so long. It's time to move on."

Cliff Radel, a Cincinnati native, writes about the people, places and traditions defining his hometown. E-mail:

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