By TRAVIS HANDY
That’s a greeting many people who knew J.B. and Nellie Warner will remember. The Warners were a fixture in the local flea market and yard sale community, as well as the town of Pulaski and Pulaski County.
According to the Warners’ middle daughter, Farron Smith, her father was known by many names: Bug Ears, Junior, Buddy, J.B. and Junk Man. His wife, Nellie, was known as “the sweet little lady behind the man who never met a stranger.”
“Growing up here, spending their whole lives here, they knew everybody and of course everybody felt like they knew them,” said Smith.
J.B. and Nellie were permanent fixtures at both the Dublin Lions Club Flea Market and the Hillsville Flea Market and Gun Show for decades. J.B’s spot at the Dublin flea market became affectionately known as “Warner’s Corner,” because he laid claim to the same spot so many years on end.
Since the 1960s, the Warners amassed quite a collection of antiques and memorabilia from a wide range of places, decades and events. Not only was their home filled with beautiful items, their basement was stuffed full of collectibles, said their daughters.
Now that J.B. and Nellie have both passed—J.B. in June 2010 at age 84, and Nellie in August 2012 at age 85—their massive collection of rare, beautiful, unusual and nostalgic items is going on the auction block and back to the community they loved.
“I’ve worked with my dad since I can remember, and we’ve had some fairly substantial auctions,” said Jarrod Hines, owner and president of Old Dominion Auction Company in Dublin, the company handling the auction of the Warner estate. “This one ranks right up there with them.”
Hines and his team have been put to task sorting through and cataloging the enormous collection of items from the Warners’ basement and home.
“The family will be the first to tell you they didn’t know what they had,” said Hines. “The nicer items, of course, were upstairs, displayed in cabinets and hutches, things like that, but the basement was crammed full of things they had collected from over their lifetimes… It was piled up with so much stuff and we pulled a lot of metal toys out of the basement, and a lot of crocks… They basically said ‘we want to sell this, can you help us?’ and we said yes, so they turned us loose and we just cleaned out the whole house.”
The items in the auction are so numerous, Hines said, that the entire auction itself will have a footprint of 15,000-18,000 square feet.
The auction will include metal toys, crocks, Gone with the Wind lamps, vintage Knickerbocker stuffed toys, furniture, glassware, china and Fiesta ware, railroad memorabilia, items from WWI and WWII, and many pieces documenting the history of Pulaski County and the town of Pulaski. One of those items is a cheerleading uniform worn by a Pulaski Orioles cheerleader circa 1944.
“I think the thing that intrigues me the most are the Pulaski County items we’ve found; specifically the cheerleading outfit,” said Hines. “We have a magazine here that’s a promotional type magazine for the county back when it was in its heyday and it was the manufacturing hub of this area. We’ve found stuff from local businesses… so I can’t really pick any one specific item that really just jumps out at me because it’s all equally interesting.”
The history of items was something the Warners’ girls always got to learn more about growing up. According to their eldest daughter, Joyce Covey, most of the items in their collection had stories connected to them.
“Most of what I see at the auction house now, I knew about because mother and daddy both made sure that we knew about the history of what was there,” Covey said. “If there was a history connected to anything that was there, my father knew it. If it had to do with the glassware, my mother knew it. She knew her glassware and she knew good antiques and collectibles, so they both had an eye for what they chose.”
All three daughters shared memories of their youth, traveling with “Mother and Daddy” on camping trips. Their youngest daughter, Ginger Shouse, remembered the camping trips and the sight of her dad riding her purple banana-seat bicycle.
“We were a family that grew up camping. We would camp at Claytor Lake and we would camp every summer at Myrtle Beach,” Shouse said. “So we would take that bike to the campground and anytime someone needed something from the country store he would jump on that purple banana seat bicycle. He didn’t care that it was a girl’s bicycle, so that was a fond memory.”
They remember their mother, among numerous reasons, for her great cooking. They said she made the best and prettiest pies, and on Sundays, the best fried chicken dinner around. She was an avid collector of china, namely Jewel Tea in the Harvest Leaf pattern, and she loved fine furniture; especially marble-topped tables.
Farron said in an email to Hines that “the Warners’ interest in antiques began in the early 1960s when J.B.’s work at Hercules (Radford Army Amunition Plant) took him to Ohio, where he spotted an antique crank phone. (We) remember … mother’s face when he proudly brought home his ‘find’ and hung it in the family home.” That old crank phone began a hobby enjoyed by their parents for years to come.
J.B. worked in payroll and surplus materials disposal for Hercules and was also a part-time sales agent for Allstate Insurance. It is said his insurance calls took him to many homes in and around Pulaski County, and many times he would come home with “treasures.” Even the Warners’ grandchildren got in on the hobby, riding around with “meems and peeps,” as they called them, visiting yard sales and learning their multiplication tables as J.B. called them out while they drove around.
The flea markets were also a family affair, getting the daughters and sons-in-law involved, as well as the grandchildren, who still have fond memories of their flea marketing days.
“Daddy always had a saying that he would ‘declare a dividend,’” said Covey. “After every flea market he would declare a dividend. The grandchildren would benefit from it, we three girls would benefit from it, and our husbands would benefit from it, because we had helped him pack it up and put it down and re-pack it and bring it home, so he would declare a dividend. It never was much, but for us, young couples growing up, just starting our marriages and having young children, it was quite a big deal.”
J.B. and Nellie loved going to yard sales and selling things themselves, more than anything, for socializing and meeting people. They loved people and enjoyed sharing their love of their hobby with others.
“There were … times when somebody came by and he could tell that he didn’t have the money or wanted something. So many times he would just give it to the person if he thought that person would appreciate it and love it,” said Smith. “The same thing with mother; if she collected something that she knew someone else would enjoy… I know there was another person she had known as a little girl and that person was collecting something that mother had plenty of—some Jewel Tea—she would give it to that person. It brought her such joy to give someone else something to start someone else collecting because she knew they would enjoy it as much as she did.”
The three daughters and their families are sad to see it all come to an end, but all seem to agree that an auction is a fitting way for the collection to go. They can envision their parents sitting in heaven, looking down and watching the auction, their dad saying, “look, there they go again!”
“There was a lot of stuff there that even we didn’t realize… and a lot of stuff we had forgotten about. So it’s going to be a good sale and I think people will be very surprised by all they see,” said Covey.
The family also feels like the auction is in good hands, and the staff at the auction company is thrilled to be involved. “I would like to emphasize that we have been proud to have been entrusted with this estate,” said Hines.
“I have never seen anybody as professional and yet caring as the people (at Old Dominion Auction Co.) have been to us,” said Covey. “Professionalism of course comes first but they have done nothing but taken care of our needs and realized what we had to do, so I’m so glad to see (Jarrod) in the county. He’s a really great guy and the people he has working for him are just as nice.”
The auction will preview Tuesday, April 2 from 5-7 p.m.
“With a sale of this magnitude, you can’t just soak it all up in just an hour or two before the auction begins,” said Hines.
The actual auction will take place over three days in Dublin at Old Dominion Auction, 4697 Cleburne Blvd. It will begin Friday, April 5 at 2 p.m., will continue April 6 at 9 a.m., and again Sunday, April 7 at 2 p.m. On Saturday the auction will be simulcast at www.proxibid.com. Search for Old Dominion Auction, and you can participate in bidding online.