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Goodyear art auction surprises as boxing squirrels get big bids, antique map sells for $120,000

By Jim Mackinnon
Beacon Journal business writer

CLEVELAND: If you are easily excitable, you might want to make sure you are safely sitting down before you read any further. It seems some dead squirrels have real collectible value.

Take Goodyear’s “boxing squirrels,” a set of four small wood boxes, each depicting two stuffed squirrels mounted in boxing poses and probably made some time in the late 1800s.

The boxing squirrels were among hundreds of pieces of fine art and collectibles, including an extensive antique map collection, that Goodyear auctioned off Saturday at Rachel Davis Fine Arts.

The auction house had initially valued the squirrel boxes at $300 to $500 apiece.

Bidding opened at $950 for the first box. It sold for $19,000. The second box: $15,000. The third and fourth boxes: $18,000 each.

Grand total: $70,000.

The audience actually applauded.

“That was too rich for my blood,” said Steve Poholski, 50, a bank investment manager and trust officer who drove up from Barberton to the auction. Proving that bankers actually do have a sense of humor, he wore a squirrel T-shirt for the occasion. Poholski really wanted to buy, at the right price, what he called “the Holy Grail of squirrel collections.”

But it wasn’t to be.

Instead, Stephen Dori Shin, 50, partner in a Lake Placid, N.Y., antiques and curiosities shop called Antediluvian, spent the equivalent of a small mortgage on the items.

“They’ll go to a good home eventually,” Shin said. “It’s a hot art, Victorian taxidermy. There’s almost no such thing as a series [like the boxing squirrels].”

Shin is pretty sure he got decent value for the squirrels.

“We’re going to put them in a collection. They’re just really cool,” he said.

The auction, which started at 9:30 a.m. and was going well into the afternoon, was of all the art pieces and collectibles that Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. executives decided not to bring to the company’s new headquarters that opened earlier this year off Innovation Way in East Akron.

Not everything sold at the auction house’s initial estimated prices, while some art pieces also went for decent sums of money.

The first painting up for auction by illustrator Dean Cornwell, a contemporary of artist Norman Rockwell, sold for $26,000; subsequent Cornwell pieces sold for $14,000, $15,000 and $18,000, respectively.

The day included selling off an extensive antique map collection Goodyear purchased in the 1980s.

The prize piece, based on its initial estimated value, was a map of Greece made about 1601. The auction house initially placed the map’s value at between $50,000 and $100,000. It ended up selling for $120,000.

Bidders likely were from all over the world, said auctioneer Rachel Davis. Besides coming in person, people could bid via telephone and the Internet. Davis said more than 500 people registered to take part in the auction online.

Davis said she overall was pleased with how the auction was going.

“‘I think it’s going great,” she said.

She paused.

“I certainly didn’t expect that with the squirrels,” she said.

Gary Phillips drove up from Akron with his wife, Mary, to try to win two oil paintings done by his late uncle, Russell Phillips. He said he wanted to bring the paintings back into the family.

“It was always like an urban legend” that Goodyear bought two of his uncle’s paintings, Phillips said. When he went through the Goodyear art catalog and saw the two paintings listed, he decided he had to try to buy them.

“We were kind of shocked there actually were paintings there,” Phillips said.

He said he hoped no one else was going to be interested in his uncle’s art.

It took $400, but Phillips won the first of his uncle’s paintings, called Rittman Depot. And then at $160, he was the high bidder on the second one, called Delta Queen.

Winning was exciting, Phillips said.

“I had tears,” Mary Phillips said.

His uncle’s paintings will go “in the living room, probably. Displayed well,” Phillips said.

Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or

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