On the darker side of American history
DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS Auctioneer Benjamin Stoltzfus of R.A. Arner Auctioneers, New Ringgold, draws bids for a 1920s Tamaqua KKK seal embosser in Tuscarora on Saturday.
The value of an antique is determined in large part by rarity and its provenance, its place of origin.
That rule of thumb proved true in Tuscarora when auctioneers discovered a unique artifact of local and American history while liquidating an estate.
A 1920s cast-iron stamp seal embosser believed to have been owned by knights of the Tamaqua chapter of the Ku Klux Klan went up for grabs at a Saturday auction. Bidding skyrocketed.
The subversive KKK is generally regarded as a Protestant, white supremacy organization that advocates purification. It is classified as a hate group by the Anti-Defamation League.
The item generated wide interest, drawing bids from as far as Florida and Indiana.
R.A. Arner Auctioneers had advertised the availability of the embosser in Times News classified display ads and online auction sites.
A typical 1920s cast-iron stamp seal embosser can be bought for $50 to $100.
But when it carries a brass plate that imprints the name: Tamaqua, Pa. No. 313 Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, well ... that's a different story entirely.
After brisk bidding among several parties, auctioneer Benjamin Stoltzfus slammed the gavel at a top bid of $825.
Among the bidders were representatives of the Tamaqua Historical Society.
The buyer, however, was a Lehighton man who declined to reveal his name, but said he likely will hold onto the item rather then resell.
"It's so rare and collectible, so desirable, you just won't find one," said the man, who insisted on anonymity. He described himself as retired but would not indicate the identity of his former employer or profession.
The KKK embosser is considered intrinsically sensitive, especially given today's societal shift toward tolerance and political correctness. In fact, the embosser almost didn't make it to the auction block.
"They were going to throw it away," said Karen Arner-Moyer, manager, R. A. Arner Auctioneers, New Ringgold. "I guess they were sort of embarrassed."
The embosser was discovered among household belongings of the Edward Thomas estate, Broad Street.
Arner-Moyer and her mother, Florence Arner, realized its significance and historical importance, and encouraged the family to include it in the sale.
The owner, Edward Thomas, passed away in 1994 at age 62 and his wife is now in an assisted living facility.
Son Stephen Thomas, 54, of Vermont, said he was aware the embosser had been stashed away in the house for decades.
However, his father was not a KKK member, said Thomas, nor were any family members part of that group.
"My father got it someplace. We're not sure where he got hold of it. Maybe in a card game or something like that," said Thomas.
Thomas said his father was a typical, hardworking miner employed at the Newkirk Colliery Tunnel. He also ran a bootleg coal operation.
The Tamaqua KKK is believed to have been part of the Roaring 20s incarnation of the controversial right-wing group that dates back to the 1860s.
There are stories of cross burnings that took place on the mountains around Tamaqua over the years, but not all are a result of Klan activity. A cross burning in 1961 atop South Ward mountain, for example, is attributed to mischief by youths of that era.
In its newer form, the Klan has opposed the Civil Rights Movement and progress by minorities.
Members consider themselves to be in support of Americanism and Christian morality, according to Philip Perlmutter's book "Legacy of Hate."
However, virtually all major religious denominations have denounced the Klan.