Page 4 of 5
The sorting continues downstairs, where Kevin Hummer is resting both hands lightly on an etched silver platter and waiting for Philipps to enter the shot. The platter, standing upright on a wooden pedestal, begins to slide. Hummer's grin fades as he grips it more securely. After the piece has been secured, Hummer tells the story of his find. It's a tale that sounds oft-told and that has among its characters an older woman bringing the platter to a St. Joseph antique mall, intending to have it melted for scrap.
"I knew then it was something unique because I'd never seen anything like it," Hummer says. And this is a key component of nearly every discovery mythology. The owner, able to see something that others have clearly missed, has rescued or preserved a piece. Philipps leans in to hear more, and Hummer's smile returns. It grows even wider when the appraiser assigns the item a value: $8,000.
John Tunks was born and raised in the house where he still lives, about 10 miles outside Maysville, Missouri, a rural town with a population of 1,234, according to the 2010 census. A brooch rests in an open jewelry box before him. About the size of a clementine orange, the brooch is inlaid with swirls of diamonds.
"Fifty-three mine-cut diamonds," Tunks says. "And I believe this brooch belonged to Pearl Warner." As in the mother of Harry, Albert, Sam and Jack, the brothers who formed the Hollywood studio Warner Bros. Tunks' grandfather was Pearl Warner's chauffeur, and his grandmother read daily correspondence and books to the Polish immigrant. In return for his grandparents' service, Tunks believes, Warner gave them this piece from her personal jewelry collection.
Tunks, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, says his interest in genealogy is part of his faith. The retired H&R Block employee is a devotee of the Midwest Genealogical Center in Independence. He opens a squared-off leather briefcase and takes out printed-off Wikipedia pages and newspaper articles with passages marked in ink and paper-clipped together. He punctuates the stories of his grandparents' 1920s travels with Warner with black-and-white photos inside a black photo album, its pages thinned with age.
Even with all of his evidence splayed out on the table, Tunks feels that he is still missing an important part of the puzzle: proof that Warner owned this brooch. "If this does belong to the Warners, I'd just like to reconnect them with a piece of their family history," he says.
Kent Dicus, an accountant at Children's Mercy Hospital, has brought a daguerreotype of his great-great-grandfather. Thomas Jefferson Dobyns not only was the portrait's subject but also owned a chain of photography studios along the Mississippi River.
Dicus' research has taken him from Canal Street in New Orleans to New York City. But there's only so much the Kansas City native has been able to uncover. Dobyns was 53 years old when the photo was taken and was less than five years from selling the Dobyns and Harrington studios and picking up a rifle in the name of the Confederacy.
"I've seen these go for several thousands on eBay. I could never part with it. I would just like to know if he was well-known for his day, known beyond our family," he says.
Twenty feet from Dicus, an oblong wooden box sits atop a handcart. It's a prairie organ, a portable pump organ that's well over a century old. It likely traveled by steamship from Edinburgh, Scotland, to Warsaw, Missouri, where Lee Hydeman and her husband, Scott, purchased it at auction. The Kansas City nurse and bricklayer have spent the past decade shopping for pieces to take up residence alongside her grandmother's 1925 baby grand piano.