Looking to own a piece Cuban folk art or an antique cast-iron monkey bank? Missing the perfect vintage rug to accent your home’s classic style?
Or do you simply relish the idea of perusing the many antiques and oddities collected by one of Illinois’ most notable politicians?
Any of those desires could be met this weekend when scores of items amassed by the late Gov. James R. Thompson Jr. will be available for purchase at an estate sale in north suburban Winnetka.
“He was a prolific collector of things,” said Samantha Thompson, the governor’s daughter, who is hosting the sale. The for-sale items are “kind of an overview of his collecting career. I wouldn’t say anything is more important than anything else, but it shows the breadth of his collection and the things he was interested in, in different periods of time.”
Known as “Big Jim,” the 6-foot-6 Thompson was Illinois’ longest-serving governor, holding office from 1977 to 1991. His political accomplishments over four terms notably included securing a new stadium to keep the White Sox in Chicago and restoring Navy Pier.
He also hosted annual antique fairs on the Governor’s Mansion lawn and established the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. His hobby did land him in trouble at times, when he set aside items at antiques stores that were later purchased by friends and given to him.
Thompson died last August at 84 due to heart problems. Besides his political legacy and a Loop building bearing his name, the Chicago Republican left behind lots of — well, stuff.
Thompson referred to his preferred pastime as “pickin’ and junkin’,” said his daughter, who was brought along on those excursions from an early age. During his time in office, the governor would stop in at antique shops in the smallest of Illinois towns, she said. He created the Illinois Artisans Shops, one in downtown Chicago and the other downstate, to feature and promote the work of local artists.
Samantha Thompson credits her father’s introducing her to “weird and wonderful” antiques growing up as the reason why she pursued interior design as a career. “The eccentricity runs in the family,” she said, noting her father’s influence over her own hunt for antiques and the Patrick Roullier tropical mural she had painted in her foyer last year.
Finding things of “intrinsic value” was never the former governor’s top priority, Samantha Thompson said. Instead he would come upon a quirky piece, research everything there was to know about it, form a collection of similar items, from depictions of Adam and Eve to figurine cocktail shakers, and then move on to something else, she said.
“There’s something freeing about the way he collected,” she said. “For him, it was all about educating himself and moving onto something new.”
Thompson didn’t keep his treasures packed in a storage unit, preferring to keep as many items as possible on display because he wanted to “live with everything” in full view, Samantha Thompson said. She is moving with her family to Savannah, Georgia, and while many of her father’s collectibles are for sale, she’s holding onto the things that “evoke his memory,” including items the two of them searched for together, she said.
Annie Adams of Nest Estate Sales, which is organizing the event, touted the Thompson estate sale as a “treasure hunter’s dream.” Some of her favorite items include: a vintage booze-label bar cart purchased at an auction in the United Kingdom; a Maison Jansen-inspired sunflower floor lamp; and a framed hand fan signed by Cuban American artist Ruben Toledo. There’s also a wide selection of collectible furniture available.
Buyers can bring home a set of black-and-white buffalo check plates for less than $50, or select paintings and furniture at prices upward of $2,000.
Photographs of most of the items are included in the estate sale’s listing, and while most of the pieces for sale are part of the Thompson family collection, there are also more prosaic items like a Peloton exercise bike and a Samsung TV available.
Adams anticipates the two days to bring in “close to a six-figure sale,” she said. But the true value, she said, is the opportunity to “rehome” Gov. Thompson’s treasures, something that’s “impossible to put a price tag on.”
“This collection is pretty significant,” Adams said. “We’ve got beautiful furniture that’s highly collectible … a really neat mix.”
Samantha Thompson said she hopes some child who’s reluctantly dragged to the estate sale by their parents finds something and “catches that spark about collecting and learning about the past,” like she did through her father. She’s confident her father would approve of his treasures being sold to others with a similar interest in curating antiques and would “enjoy having the pieces out in the world.”
The sale, which runs Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., is at 159 Fuller Lane in Winnetka. Adams recommends people park on Winnetka Road, especially for the first couple of hours of the sale, when parking is restricted on Fuller.
Shoppers will put their name on the sign-up sheet, starting an hour before the sale opens Friday, with people being let in on a first-come, first-served basis. Prices aren’t negotiable, Adams said, but all items will be half-off from noon to 2 p.m. Saturday as the sale concludes.