This lot is offered without reserve.
Best known for the half-century they devoted to the restoration and preservation of Roslyn, their Long Island town, Roger and Peggy Gerry were also lifelong collectors of American and Asian antique furniture and decorative arts.
As a couple, the Gerrys were collectors from the first. Starting their marriage in Philadelphia in the wartime 1940s, they began twining the strands of their separate gifts, experiences, and abilities into a strong thread of common interest that would unify them and give them something strong to share. On the surface, they were opposites: Peggy an intuitive artist, Roger a detail-oriented and pragmatic oral surgeon. Their common passion for beautiful objects - art, architecture, and decorative arts - exhilarated and united them. Philadelphia was exciting: Federal and Greek Revival buildings to study and admire, Fairmount Park mansions to wonder at, Pine Street antiques to examine and even to buy. It was in Philadelphia that the young Gerrys discovered that they were most comfortable in period surroundings, and most invigorated when exploring and discussing 18th- and 19th-century art and architecture. Roger and Peggy pushed the limits of their household budget to acquire a few good pieces of early-19th-century American furniture that both of them loved. The sacrifice was worth it: the pieces they bought in Philadelphia they kept for the rest of their lives.
Some of the attraction of antiquity and tradition was, for Roger at least, related to his yearning for a feeling of continuity. A young naval officer, he had just returned from the South Pacific where he had served on the U. S. S. Boise right after the Battle of Guadalcanal in the fall of 1942. At the end of the war he was stationed at the Philadelphia naval hospital. "Listening to the account of the bomb falling on Hiroshima surely seemed like the end of the world," Roger Gerry wrote later, but "doing so from an 18th-century wing chair, in an 18th-century Pennsylvania farmhouse, provided a feeling of assurance that, like history, life goes on no matter what."
Until 1960, the Gerrys lived the rootless Navy life - broadening their interests and their collections wherever they went. After Philadelphia came two years on Guam, where they collected shells and 19th-century furniture made from the Micronesian rosewood known as ifil. On Guam they observed graceful, derelict mansions: the neglect of old buildings made the Gerrys uneasy. "Nothing you looked at made you feel secure," Roger wrote later. It was then, he said, that he and Peggy first realized "the importance of keeping historical buildings intact and taken care of." After Guam came posting to Long Island, where the Gerrys spent five years in Roslyn. There they developed an attachment to and connoisseurs' appreciation for the historic buildings of the small harbor village.
In 1956 Roger was transferred for two years to Japan, where the couple studied and bought Japanese ceramics and other art and found a focus for the Asian collecting that would engage them for decades to come. Being Westerners in the Far East, they were intrigued by objects made especially for export, domestic objects they had seen in historic houses in America. The export trade had a particular appeal to the young Gerrys, who intended to live in the kind of house that would have been decorated with just that kind of exotic object. After learning that their next posting would be back to Long Island, while they were still in Japan Peggy Gerry made a purchase that would determine the course of the rest of their lives. She bought, through the mail, the Obadiah Washington Valentine House at 105 Main Street in Roslyn.
The most important collection of Roger and Peggy Gerry's lives began the moment in 1959 when they arrived back in Roslyn to find the sleepy village they'd left now in imminent peril. The town itself had to be rescued - collected, preserved and interpreted, in curatorial terms. The postwar suburban tide was sweeping across Long Island, and Roslyn was in the way. A county highway project threatened half the historic houses on Main Street - their own house was in its path. And that wasn't the only problem. Ancient buildings were being ripped down or left to languish and the local economy was foundering. Development projects threatened to inundate the tiny village, zoning was inadequate, and historic preservation was unheard-of. The situation was shocking, especially for two people who felt secure only when things were stable and well-tended. Almost before their bags were unpacked, the Gerrys understood that if they were to live comfortably and happily in the home they had committed themselves to, they would have to take matters into their own hands. And that's how it started . . .
The highway project could be stopped, Roger found, only if he, Peggy, and the people of Roslyn convinced the county that their village was so important, architecturally and historically, that it should be given special treatment. The Gerrys shifted into high gear. They galvanized their most energetic neighbors, persuaded the village to establish a Planning Board (with Roger its first chairman), and achieved the designation of a historic district in the area most threatened by the road widening. Day by day and year by year, the Gerrys strengthened the net of protection they'd thrown over Roslyn - an ordinance here, a parcel of threatened land municipally acquired there, a demolition averted through careful but ardent activism. In 1961 the Gerrys founded the Roslyn Landmark Society, an organization committed to the preservation and understanding of historic architecture and decorative arts. In 1964, at the suggestion of their friend and advisor Huyler Held, in response to yet another demolition crisis, the Gerrys quickly set up a revolving fund designed to purchase and restore historic buildings for resale. A few years later, the fund evolved into the Roslyn Preservation Corporation, which is to this day a potent vehicle for acquiring and restoring threatened or difficult buildings and marketing them with protective deed covenants.
By the 1970s Roger and Peggy Gerry, still collectors at heart, had made Roslyn their permanent home and the focus of their considerable resources. For their own Greek Revival-style house they found late-18th and early-19th-century American furnishings of the kind its original owners might have had. They decorated their rooms with Empire-style pieces long before early Victorian was popular; in 1962 they had loaned a number
of items for the Metropolitan Museum of Art's exhibition "American Arts from American Collections." Because Roslyn was their place, the Gerrys let New York and Long Island dealers know they would buy anything with a local provenance. And they spent valuable weekend days shepherding young neighbors through North Shore antiques and junk shops, teaching them what to look for and how to furnish their own Roslyn houses. There was practical help, too. Through an unusual program devised by the Gerrys, the Landmark Society would loan furniture and decorative objects to historic-house owners in return for an agreement to show the house on the Society's annual (and justly famous) house tour.
Roger, in particular, had a reverence for anything old. It could be rusted, or broken, or to-the-uninitiated eye downright homely; if an object was ancient and well-used, it was precious to Roger Gerry. In a story that made the rounds, Roger had lagged behind his tour group in a Stately Home of England, and had rummaged in the trash bin. There he discovered the shards of a once-glorious Delft charger. He fished out the pieces, wrapped them in his handkerchief, braved humbling glares from his tour mates, and carried his booty back to the States where it was reconstructed to museum standards and proudly displayed. Roger had a gift for infecting others with his enthusiasm. He had a habit of appearing on Roslyn doorsteps early on weekend mornings, often bearing gifts. His hands might be cupped protectively around a rust-frozen box lock of the type that ought to be on one's front door, or a pair of ancient wire-rimmed spectacles that had belonged to a former resident of one's old house. These would be handed over, accompanied by detailed instructions for their restoration, care and handling. Both he and Peggy liked to see anything with a known history returned to the place where it belonged.
The Gerrys' gift for making the old seem precious and distinctive has served Roslyn well. Many American towns are full of 18th- and 19th-century houses. (They are often described as "aging housing stock.") People may occupy these big antiques with little sense of the art and history they embody. That kind of negligence is impossible in Roslyn, where the village itself is a habitat for houses and buildings that have been researched, analyzed, described, and toured until each owner has come to understand that he is the steward of an important artifact of the American past.
Roger and Peggy Gerry were collectors and appreciators of many things in the course of their lives; and their prime collection was antique buildings, and the beautiful things that grace them. They brought the collector's drive to understand, acquire and protect fine objects to the work of historic preservation in the village they chose for their home. From the moment they arrived for good until their deaths they worked every angle: they built organizations; participated in local government; bought, moved, restored and sold buildings; inspired others to activism; and garnered regional and national recognition for their achievements. Roger Gerry liked to say that Roslyn was one of the few places in the world that looked better rather than worse as time went by: one might say that that is the result of applying the disciplines of collecting to all the resources of a typical small town.
Ellen Fletcher Russell