For sale: historic items from Browne estate 8/16/01

Auctioneer Chris O'Dea holds an 18th-century wine glass, one of a number of items belonging to former Newfoundland judge, lawyer, MP and MHA William J. Browne. The piece and many others will be auctioned at the Star of the Sea Hall on Henry Street Aug. 25. (Photo: By GARY HEBBARD/The Telegram)

By Stavroula Meditskos

Special to The Telegram


Eleven years after his death, the legacy of William J. Browne still lives.

Browne, a former judge, lawyer, MP and MHA, was also Canada’s solicitor general in the Diefenbaker government.

On Aug. 25, antiques and books from Browne’s St. John’s estate will be auctioned off at the Star of the Sea Hall on Henry Street.

Chris O’Dea, a professional auctioneer and appraiser and owner of O’Dea’s Auction Room Ltd. will be offering more than 100 books and some 40 pieces of furniture, some dating back as early as 1800.

O’Dea, a mutual friend of the Browne family, said the idea came about after consulting with Browne’s wife, Nora, who also offered various personal items for the auction.

“There’s a paisley shawl which was made in Scotland in probably 1850. Originally, the use of a shawl those days would be for a lady to put it around her shoulders, but it’s actually big enough for a dining room table. It’s quite intricate in its design and exceptional in its craftsmanship; that’s just something that Norah Browne, when she came out to Newfoundland, brought with her,” O’Dea said.

He said avid antique collectors will be interested in the items up for auction. Noteworthy items include a Victorian lady’s chair circa 1860, an 18th-century wine glass with an engraved church scene in the Dutch style and a pair of mahogany Hepplewhite arm chairs with oval backs.

Hepplewhite is a burly design from 18th-century England that is intricately designed and difficult to find in the local marketplace, said O’Dea.

“The serious collector will take note of those chairs because they are indeed exceptional,” he added.

Also up for grabs is a Victorian hotel lobby tri-seat. The bench is shaped with the backs of the three seats facing each other.

“It would have been used in a hotel lobby when people were waiting in a circle with backs facing each other. It’s quite unusual. I’ve never seen one locally and it would have originally probably come off of one of the old downtown St. John’s hotels, maybe the Crosbie Hotel or some place; I can’t say for certain.”

He said the item that will grab the most attention and likely the highest bid is a mahogany tilt-top dining room table with a square top on a pedestal base. The table is dated circa 1840.

O’Dea, an avid antique collector, as well as a woodworker and furniture maker, said the exceptional quality of the furniture is a testament to the Browne family’s careful preservation.

More than 100 of Browne’s books will also be up for sale, which will likely catch the eye of Newfoundland political history buffs, said O’Dea.

“I know that books were a big part of his life. He was a great reader and even some of the books he had when he was a student at Oxford are still there today. Books are things that Billy Browne probably took the most pride in,” he said, adding that journals from the House of Assembly will be available.

“There’s such a wide range of things. There are some basic kitchen tables and chairs up to decorative items like china, lamps, Victorian lamps. It basically covers the whole range. It’s not only for those that come with a big cheque book. There’s going to be something there for everybody,” he said.

Even if people don’t buy anything, O’Dea is encouraging the curious to attend the auction, whether to see the historic Star of the Sea Hall or to watch the bids.

“It’s very amusing to go. It’s very entertaining to watch the competitive bidding take place between and among buyers at the auction,” he said.

“And it can be fun.”

The auction takes place Aug. 25, at 1 p.m. A public viewing will be held the day before from 4-7 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. until auction time.

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