Yarmouth estate auction to benefit conservation groups, North Yarmouth Academy

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YARMOUTH — After  John Kauffmann died in December 2014, his belongings didn’t go to his family.

Instead, Kauffmann, 91, arranged for the his wide array of collectibles and antiques to be auctioned off, with the money going to environmental conservation organizations. In addition, Kauffmann’s home, at 124 Main St., will be donated to the adjacent North Yarmouth Academy.

“He was not only an avid outdoorsman, but an academic, which is his affiliation with NYA,” Colleen Donovan, an auctioneer at Foreside Antiques, said.

Kauffmann, who lived in Yarmouth for about 20 years, spent a lot of his life working in conservation. He worked for the National Park Service and was also a chief planner for the Arctic National Park and the Noatak National Preserve. He also wrote many articles for National Geographic.

The estate auction, which is being organized by Donovan and Peter Combs of BidAmount.com, is being held June 26-27. On June 26, part of the auction will take place in the home starting at 6 p.m.; the following day, the main auction will be in NYA’s Safford Auditorium. All of the items are online at kauffmannauction.com.

Donovan said there are thousands of items being auctioned, arranged into about 500 lots. There are almost 1,000 old books, many of which are rare, which will be auctioned on June 26. Some are classics, but many reflect Kauffmann’s interest in nature and the outdoors.

Donovan said the most expensive book is valued between $1,000 and $2,000, while others are expected to go for around $50.

Kauffmann’s belongings also include almost 100 paintings, 50 rugs, 50 lots of silver, various pieces of jewelry, and antique furniture.

The most expensive piece is a “great bed” from the 1600s, which was purchased from England by Kauffmann’s mother. Donovan said it is worth $4,000 to $6,000.

Combs said they expect to get between $120,000 to $175,000 for all the items.

“Everything that’s there will sell, I’m sure of it,” he said. “I don’t see much there that wouldn’t be of interest to someone.”

While a lot of the items were passed down to Kauffmann over three generations, many of his things were acquired while traveling.

“He bought things because he liked them, not to invest,” Combs said. “That’s the best way to collect.”

Combs and Donovan said Kauffmann was fond of Asian culture, as is evident in the many dragon-adorned pieces at the house. Combs said the oldest piece being auctioned is a Hun Dynasty duck from the second century.

In addition to all of the money from the auction, all of Kauffmann’s savings are being donated to environmental causes. Combs said he’s unsure of exactly how much Kauffmann had, but he estimated it to be in the millions.

Combs said Kauffmann never married.

“The rest of his family seems to be equally well off,” Combs said. “None of them seem at all bothered that he’s giving away everything.”

Donovan said the family has chosen to keep a few personal items, such as family jewelry and portraits.

The home, which was built in 1825 and has about 15 rooms split between the main house and two apartments, is being given to NYA. Kauffmann served on the school’s board for about a decade.

It is still unclear what the home will be used for. There are speculations that it could be the headmaster’s house, a space for functions and conferences, or an outdoor education center.

Regardless of its use, NYA’s interim head of school, John Drisko, said the school is grateful.

“It means a great deal,” he said. “John was a great friend of the school.”

Drisko said not only did Kauffmann “care deeply” for the environment, but he was passionate about education.

“He saw quite vividly the value of the importance of young people,” Drisko said.

Combs said despite Kauffmann’s wealth, he remained down-to-earth and was well liked. He said he always thought of helping others and protecting the environment.

“He sort of the chugged through his whole life being nice and doing the right thing,” Combs said.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

Sidebar Elements

Colleen Donovan of Foreside Antiques is organizing the auction of John Kauffmann’s estate in Yarmouth.

The Kauffmann’s estate at 124 Main St., Yarmouth, is adjacent to North Yarmouth Academy. The building is being donated to the school after all the items inside are auctioned off next weekend.

Kauffmann’s home, called the “John Sargent House” was built in 1825.

The most expensive item in the auction is an antique “great bed” from England, which is from the mid-17th century and worth around $5,000.

I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.