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Salvaged Architecture Goes On Sale

April 29, 1999

BOSTON (AP) _ The late Jorge Epstein gave his son Norman this advice: ``The worst thing you can do is to have great things and let them slide through your fingers before you know it.″

Jorge Epstein didn’t let much get away.

Five months after his death at 85, the sale of his mammoth collection of salvaged architectural treasures was to begin today at Old Mansions Inc., the old factory where he stockpiled fireplace mantels, leaded glass windows, plaster ornaments and all manner of bric-a-brac.

Over the years, Epstein scavenged a million artifacts. On Wednesday, workers feverishly stacked wrought iron fences, Victorian doors, Greek Revival columns and dusty old paintings in anticipation of the hordes expected.

``The whole place makes your eyes pop,″ said Mary Westcott, an associate at Kaminski Auctioneers, which is liquidating the collection in a sale expected to last about five months.

Only a small percentage of the objects have been priced. A pine lintel from a Colonial home was marked $300. Four black-and-silver art deco cornices were priced at $75 apiece. A framed watercolor by an unknown artist had a sticker with $175 scrawled on it.

``He couldn’t see how people couldn’t save the stuff,″ said Norman Epstein, standing next to a dusty stack of books containing municipal records that hadn’t been moved from its perch in 30 years.

``So we started taking stuff,″ he said.

And selling it.

Epstein sold the Brooklyn Museum of Art its Sculpture Garden. He sold a Colonial tavern to the Smithsonian Institution. He sold a sermon given on the first day of American independence, his son said.

In 1932, Epstein was a struggling Boston jeweler. One day a woman dressed in mourning walked into his store and told him she wanted to sell a silver spoon.

Epstein told her the spoon was gold.

``She said, `I had a whole service of 12, and I’ve been selling it off to Boston jewelry stores,‴ said his son. ``No one had told her it was gold.″

The woman, who turned out to be the widow of the president of the First National Bank of Boston, asked Epstein to sell the rest of the estate.

``Honesty made my father rich,″ said Norman Epstein.

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