Bloomberg News

Doc Holliday’s Dentist Chair Up for Sale in Bankrupt Harrisburg

October 28, 2011

Oct. 28 (Bloomberg) -- Harrisburg, Pennsylvania’s capital, plans to auction off more than 8,000 relics ranging from 1900s- era rifles to wooden wagons that were meant to be part of a Wild West museum in the bankrupt city in the Northeast.

Representatives of 10 auction houses examined the artifacts yesterday, Robert Philbin, a spokesman for Mayor Linda Thompson, said. He declined to name them, though he said 25 firms, including Christie’s Inc. and Sotheby’s, were invited to submit proposals.

“People were enthusiastic,” Philbin said.

The city, which faces a state takeover, budgeted $500,000 from the sale of the items. Former Mayor Stephen Reed, who served 28 years before losing to Thompson in the 2009 Democratic primary, collected the trove over years at a cost of about $8 million.

Reed, who spearheaded projects such as museums devoted to the Civil War and to firefighters and their equipment, also wanted to establish one to memorialize the American West. It never transpired. Reed didn’t return a call seeking comment today.

In 2007, the city sold about 3,000 artifacts for about $2 million, said Philbin.

The collection includes items from Colonial times to the Vietnam War, he said. Treasures such as a printing press and wanted posters featuring the outlaw Jesse James are stored in a climate-controlled office in downtown Harrisburg, said Philbin.

Toothpuller, Gunfighter

Other items, such as sabers and a dentist’s chair that belonged to Doc Holliday, who gained greater fame as a gunfighter, are jumbled in a building on the grounds of an incinerator whose debt load tipped the community into bankruptcy.

The selected auction house would take a commission, and proceeds would go toward the city, said Philbin, who added the timing would depend on the auctioneers and state of the market.

The sales won’t make much of a dent in the city’s debt burden, five times its general-fund budget due to an overhaul and expansion of the incinerator, which doesn’t generate enough revenue to cover the obligations. Harrisburg guaranteed about $242 million of debt related to the incinerator, according to its bankruptcy filing Oct. 11.

The state will name a receiver, a first for Pennsylvania, if the city’s mayor and council fail to pass a recovery plan by Nov. 25.

--Editors: Stephen Merelman, Mark Schoifet

To contact the reporter on this story: Romy Varghese in Philadelphia at rvarghese8@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at mtannen@bloomberg.net


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