History Auctioned Off in Buford

John Lamb flew into town from Texas last weekend on a whim after reading a story about how the Atlanta Museum's collection would be auctioned off. Then Lamb stole the show.

Lamb placed winning bids on some of the night's premier items, including a cotton gin supposedly designed by Eli Whitney, a 19th-century bicycle, and a small American war flag.

A businessman from Austin who grew up in Stone Mountain, Lamb said he wanted to see the items stay in the South.

"I'm really big on America," Lamb said. "And this stuff, this is all-American stuff. I didn't care about the lock of Napoleon's hair. I just didn't want the American stuff to be sold to somebody outside the country. Or in California."

The Atlanta Museum was the creation of pilot and antique collector James H. Elliott Jr., who brought his collection of odd and often bizarre memorabilia to a house at 537 Peachtree St. in 1945, across from what today is Emory University's Crawford Long Hospital. Elliot began by collecting items from Europe but eventually decided that there were plenty of worthwhile artifacts in the Southern U.S. The avid collector was once described by Life magazine as "the Confederate millionaire" because he purchased so much Confederate money.

After Elliott died in 1975, his son, Jim, and Jim's wife, Mary Gene, kept the museum going until 1996 when they finally closed up shop. Elliott died in 1998. Late last year, the Elliott family agreed to sell the home for approximately $900,000 to Ricky Dixon and his wife, according to a Wall Street Journal story about the auction last week. Dixon says that he and his wife plan to live there and eventually convert the house into a bed and breakfast.

Lamb said he may donate the items that he bought to a museum, display them at his Texas ranch, or give them to the new owners of the house that was the Atlanta Museum. Lamb bought his American flag, which was estimated to fetch between $200 and $400, for $10,000. He paid $76,000 for the cotton gin.

About 250 people showed up for the auction, not including the folks who bid by phone or on eBay. In total, the Atlanta Museum collection netted roughly $1.4 million.??

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