When Art Buchwald once endured a huge kidney stone, he naturally turned the excruciating experience into a column—and then had a photo of the stone enlarged and framed. Now somebody new is going to own that gross photo: The image, with Buchwald’s column taped to it, is set to be auctioned off later this year, along with dozens of similarly quirky artifacts from the late Washington Post humorist’s collection. The 95 lots include items from Buchwald’s years in Paris, Washington, and Martha’s Vineyard; the stuff is currently strewn about the Wesley Heights house occupied by Buchwald’s son, Joel, and daughter-in-law, Tamara.
Pieces for sale include the historically interesting (a football signed by Ronald Reagan), the artistically important (a burgundy-and-gold chess set made by Man Ray), and the rather inexplicable (a bright-red teacart with Chinese characters and two stuffed pandas imprisoned inside). “He had such crazy stuff,” Tamara says. “He was a shopper.”
Art moved in with Joel and Tamara in 2000 after he had a stroke. (They built a wing onto the house to accommodate him.) He died in 2007 at their home. Even as his health declined, his hunger for acquiring random objects never did, Tamara says, noting that about 200 boxes of Art’s assorted belongings were in the attic after he passed. Many of his papers went to the Library of Congress in 2017, but it wasn’t clear what to do with things like his L-shaped desk; his paperweight and bookend collections; and a French chinoiserie clock that he originally bought for $1,245. “You kind of have to see this stuff to want it,” Tamara says.
Alexandria’s Potomack Company will conduct the auction in early December—a good time to score an unusual gift for the kind of longtime Washingtonian who might fondly recall Buchwald’s distinctive sense of humor. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, and every purchase will be accompanied by a free copy of one of Art’s books. Tamara says supply won’t be a problem: Apparently a great quantity of old hardcovers are stuffed away in the attic as well.
This article appears in the October 2021 issue of Washingtonian.