Albany Times Union
‘Glorious hoard’ is a sale for the ages
Auction of collection features wide variety, including art, furniture, even a meteorite
When does a collection become a hoard?
“Collection” signals order, intent. “Hoard” speaks of obsession, mess and air time on a reality TV show.
The contents of Paul Verbitsky’s house in Fort Plain could be seen as both.
“When I hear of anyone who collected 800 paintings, I know there’s going to be a treasure there, a sleeper — something that needs to be cleaned, or a signature was missed,” said Robert Meringolo, a longtime antiques appraiser and broker, based in Greene County.
Meringolo was invited to Verbitsky’s home by his girlfriend and sole beneficiary of his estate, Tracy Towers Huse. Meringolo said that when he spotted the paintings by 17th-century master Luca Giordano, he knew Verbitsky had a good eye. There was statuary, furniture, rugs, a penny-farthing (a Victorian-era bicycle) with a mind-boggling five-footdiameter wheel and an oven-sized folk art clock. There’s even a 17-pound meteorite.
Thousands of items, large and small, packed the house where Huse still lives. The house is an antique in itself: It was built for Sir George Clarke, the acting governor of colonial New York from 1736 to 1743.
Meringolo has named the sale “A glorious hoard: the passion of Paul Verbitsky.”
“The house is like a museum,” said Huse, who was with Verbitsky for about 10 years before his death at 82, earlier this year.
She said he was a deeply private man who simply loved collecting. If he was cooped up in the house too long, he would start to get anxious, Huse said. He would tell her it was time to go, time to look for an estate sale, an antique store, an auction. He was interested in Old World paintings, but he collected contemporary work, too. Meringolo is selling a stack of 11 unframed abstract paintings by Robert Freeman as a lot.
Meringolo is working with Mooney’s Auction Gallery outside of Freehold in Greene County. The cavernous pole barn once housed auctions for tack and horses. Every auction transforms the inside. Bids are made both in person and online.
It will take three separate auctions to sell collector Verbitsky’s collection. One-third of it already has been trucked 50-plus miles from Fort Plain to its new temporary home at the auction house barn. In preparation for the sale, Meringolo’s team hosted a preview. News of the Giordano paintings brought in the actor Federico Castelluccio, best known for his role as Furio Giunta in the Sopranos.
“I’ve never seen the show,” Meringolo said, displaying a picture on his phone of the actor. “But he’s Italian and I’m Italian, so I gave him some tomatoes.”
All the items will be sold without reserve, which means if you’re lucky, you can walk out with a bargain. Meringolo said it’s impossible to know how much money the sale will bring in. Giordano was famous, but he was also prolific, so who knows? Rarity drives up price.
For Huse, high prices will determine her future. Verbitsky left her everything with the hope that a sale of the collection would bring in enough to sustain her. The house needs work. To keep it, she needs the cash.
“It’s hard to see all the stuff go,” she said. “This was my life.”
Huse said she’s keeping a few things: some French furniture, pieces that belonged to Verbitsky’s mother, two paintings she can’t part with.
In the end, Verbitsky’s treasures will be in new hands, leaving Huse a collection of memories.