What would you pay for a pair of red oven mitts? What if they were signed by Martha Stewart? The winning bidder at a recent sale at Kaminski Auctions dropped $360—perhaps hoping to sprinkle a bit of Stewart’s magic in their own kitchen.
The oven mitts were just one item in a two-day sale the Beverly auctioneer held this spring featuring more than 5,000 pieces from the lifestyle guru’s prop warehouse, which held items used on Stewart’s TV shows and magazines. Visitors to the auction preview got an opportunity not many people have had: total immersion in the exquisite glassware, cake stands, vases, and other props that have garnered Stewart’s seal of approval through the years.
“I was thrilled that I could bring this collection to the North Shore,” says Frank Kaminski, CEO at the auction house. When he heard from a mutual friend that Stewart was looking for someone to sell off her extensive collection, he zipped down to New York to visit Martha Stewart Living’s headquarters on 26th Street in Manhattan and tour the massive warehouse full of carefully cataloged items.
“There were racks and racks of items, each one individually labeled,” Kaminski recalls. “Every single spatula, candy dish, and cutting board was inventoried.” This was a far cry from the expert evaluator’s usual experience of visiting old barns and estates chock-a-block with treasures, sometimes dusty and in no particular order.
On his whirlwind tour, Kaminski was able to gain 10 minutes with the successful entrepreneur herself—not enough time for a selfie, but adequate to seal the deal. “She was meeting with CBS in one room, then headed to another meeting down the hall,” Kaminski recalls, noting that he complimented her on a recent television appearance and their shared Polish ancestry.
Kaminski also slipped in a mention of another famous female businesswomen he’d done work for: Oprah Winfrey. Back in 2013, Kaminski Auctions oversaw a massive liquidation of items from many of the celebrity’s homes across the country, from Indiana to Chicago to Hawaii. That event was held under giant circus-style tents at the Santa Barbara Polo Grounds, with Oprah herself in attendance. Kaminski was able to spend several hours with the TV and publishing legend, hearing stories about the treasures she was parting with and encouraging her to sign some items to increase their value, as well as to donate a portion of the proceeds to charity.
Kaminski made similar suggestions to Stewart—which is probably why her prop potholders sold for nearly $400. She signed 10 to 12 items total, including an antique toboggan and a beautiful John Boos butcher block table, which sold for $450. While the auction house does not reveal total proceeds from auctions, Kaminski did say that Stewart’s charity, the Martha Stewart Center for Living at Mount Sinai Hospital, which facilitates access to health care resources for older adults and enhances the public perception of aging, is benefiting from a portion of the proceeds.
Stewart also took another request from Kaminski: She tweeted about the auction to her millions of followers. And within minutes, the auction house server was swamped. “We got tens of thousands of visits to our website,” Kaminski says, adding that, fortunately, they were well prepared for the deluge, having done an upgrade prior to the Winfrey sale.
Having Martha Stewart name-check you on Twitter is glamorous, no doubt. What was not so glamorous was packing up those thousands of items; workers spent more than a week carefully wrapping each piece and loading it onto one of seven trucks for the journey to Beverly. From there, Kaminski’s team worked to group the items into sensible lots, some of which featured more than 100 items.
“We made the lots large because we didn’t want the auction to be a weeklong affair,” Kaminski says with a laugh. Hundreds of cookbooks, each with a sticker noting it was from the prop library, were broken into groups of 40 or so, and more than a hundred cake stands in lots of six or seven were among the bounty. “I think she cornered the market on cake stands,” Kaminski says.
While Kaminski Auctions is preparing an important estate sale in July featuring fine Asian antiques and an extensive art collection, but no stardust, the owner doesn’t rule out more brushes with celebrity. An acquaintance says he may be able to connect the auctioneer with the Kardashians, and Kaminski really wants to do some work for Ellen Degeneres—which might just get bidders dancing in the aisles.