History for Sale: Interest is high for auction of antiques collection

 By Lynn Moore

The Muskegon Chronicle
SCOTTVILLE, Mich. (AP) — Antiques weren’t just a business for Neil J. Frick — collecting them was a passion, a lifestyle, a calling.
And Frick’s Old Country Store wasn’t just an antiques shop. It also was a community gathering spot, a home and a museum, with some pieces that Frick particularly liked not really for sale, according to those who are now handling upcoming sales of thousands of Frick’s treasures.

Frick, who died last July at age 87, had devoted more than 50 years of his life to collecting and preserving bits of history that he found throughout the country. He reveled in showing them off, telling stories about them and dickering over their sale.

“It was an unbelievable collection,” Michael Eckles, owner of Showtime Auction Services in Ann Arbor, which is holding a large auction of Frick’s antiques in early April, told The Muskegon Chronicle. “He liked antiques so much, he priced things a little too high so no one could buy them and he could keep them for himself.”

But now Frick’s collection of porcelain advertising signs, political memorabilia, lithographs, farm machinery, De Laval cream separators, oil lamps, cowboy artifacts and more is available for purchase — all of it. That includes the antiques that were crammed into Frick’s Old Country Store in Scottville as well as the really good stuff that Frick had kept in his apartment above the store.

Longtime friend and fellow antique dealer Sally Cole and her husband Jerry are handling an estate sale of a smaller portion of Frick’s collection than the one that will be auctioned. The estate sale, which begins Thursday and lasts through Saturday, involves so many items that Cole couldn’t put a number on them.

It has been suggested that the interest in Frick’s collection is so high that some will begin lining up 24 hours before numbers are distributed at 8 a.m. Thursday.

“We often referred to his place as a museum,” Cole said. “The merchandise he had was top of the line. He had a lot of things that not only were unusual, but rare — hard to find.”

Frick grew up in Muskegon Heights, playing for its storied football teams coached by Okie Johnson that never lost a game in 1946 and 1947. He was tall for the times — an estimated 6 feet, 2 inches — and served as senior class president when he graduated from Heights High in 1947. He moved to Detroit, where he worked as an accountant for Chrysler before embarking on a long career in the insurance industry.

But his passion was collecting antiques. When his work recruiting agents and brokers for National Casualty Insurance took him to nearly every state in the union, he used the opportunity to feed his passion. He had particular fondness for Civil War and Abraham Lincoln memorabilia and for cowboy and Native American Indian artifacts.

Along the way, he befriended antique collectors from across the country, building a reputation that is expected to fuel interest in the upcoming sales.
Frick never married and never had children. The executor of his estate is Jack Frick Jr., the oldest of his nieces and nephews, who after eight months, still deeply mourns the loss of his “Uncle Bub.”

“You’ll never hear,” Frick Jr. said, pausing for several seconds to regain his composure. “You’ll never hear anyone say anything but kind things about him.”

When Nationwide Insurance bought National Casualty, Neil Frick took a buyout, continued to dabble as an independent insurance agent for a bit and then dove into his hobby full-time. Though Frick had spent his adult life in Detroit, his family had spent time in Oceana County when he was a boy, Jack Frick Jr. said.

In 1986, he ended up buying an antique shop in Scottville, put his name on the shingle out front and settled into the apartment upstairs. He remained there for 27 years, building his impressive and varied collection that he would rather talk about than make money from.

“A lot of people would just go in his store and hang out and look at his merchandise,” Sally Cole said. “That’s what he loved more than anything else — to share and talk about where he got stuff.”

Frick could spend hours talking about the Civil War, showing off such items as the sword used by the North Carolina Cavalry during the war, or his mint condition “Civil War Times” magazines.

“He just really loved to discuss history, to talk to people about history,” Cole said. “That was so special to him — just sharing about the history of the things he had.”

For the past four months, Sally Cole and her husband have immersed themselves in preparing for the upcoming estate sale. They have carefully cataloged each of the items that Showtime Auction Services chose not to include in its upcoming sale.

There is the old cowboy chuck wagon “standard cabinet” with food containers. There’s the set of pristine Lone Ranger items, including lunch box, puzzle, wrist watch and flashlight. There are china Muskegon souvenirs with images of the old courthouse, Hackley School, Hackley Hospital, Occidental Hotel and post office. And there are the racy ashtrays with the images of scantily clad women advertising the Thornton Building on Peck Street in Muskegon Heights.

“I’ve been living this estate sale for the past four months,” Cole said. “It helps with the bitter pill that we lost Neil — to appreciate his life and all that he’s done.

“His collecting is going to bring such great joy to so many people.”

The Coles have operated their own antiques business, Cole’s Antiques Villa, in Ludington since 1987. It was through the business that they met Frick, and developed over 30 years a relationship Cole said was “just like family.”
Once the sale is over, the Coles plan to move their business out of Ludington. They will move it into the former Frick’s Old Country Store in Scottville. And they will move themselves into the upstairs apartment once occupied by Neil Frick and his most prized possessions.

“We’ll live like he did,” Sally Cole said. “It’s very, very special.”


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