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At a memorial service last month for the American furniture dealer Albert M. Sack, who died last year at 96, his son, Donald, gave a eulogy explaining how the family’s Manhattan gallery relentlessly scrounged for stock. Albert Sack would spend his weekends calling countryside dealers and owners to see what underpriced treasures might be for sale, and then drive away on Monday mornings in his station wagon for scouting trips.

“If it was in Podunk, he’d head off to Podunk,” Donald Sack told the mourners gathered under military murals at the Park Avenue Armory’s Veterans Room.

Albert Sack filed away raw notes from his travels, as well as mounds of other paperwork dating back to the company’s founding in 1905. He outlived two brothers who helped run the business that their father, Israel, had started, and after it closed in 2002, Albert moved to North Carolina and kept dealing. He set up a separate apartment to store 200 linear feet of correspondence, appraisals, invoices, auction catalogs, reference books and clippings albums.

In December the Yale University Art Gallery acquired the Sack archive from the estate. (The Americana collector Robert M. Bass financed the undisclosed purchase price.) Last month, Patricia E. Kane, the gallery’s lead American decorative arts curator, used a pearly penknife to slice open the bruised and dented boxes. They had just arrived at a former Bayer aspirin factory in West Haven, Conn., where Yale has set up storage spaces, offices and labs.

“I haven’t had time to actually look through all this stuff and see what I’ve got,” she said, as she leafed through files labeled with shorthand like “Hepp” (Hepplewhite) and “Chip” (Chippendale).

The Sacks scrawled in the margins of auction catalogs and gallery ads, noting prices they paid over the years, past owners and any components that had been replaced and refinished. The brothers wrote “FAKE” across the images of numerous pieces they saw for sale.

They documented their repeated contacts with anyone who owned something they wanted and their disputes with other scholars over authenticity. The Sacks also wrote warnings to one another: “Lady is very peculiar — ‘crazy,’ ” a note from around 1960 reports about a collector worth visiting in Connecticut.

“This is fantastic, truly,” Ms. Kane said. In the boxes she kept finding images to add to one of her pet projects, Yale’s online Rhode Island Furniture Archive, and discovering hints that works already in the database might be fake or heavily restored.

Yale will be digitizing parts of the Sack archive, including material in obsolete formats, like microfiche and glass lantern slides. Researchers will eventually be able to scroll the Web site or make an appointment to learn how a particular American antique fared on the market during the last century, and who squabbled over whether it was real.


When train stations died along Texas rail lines, Roy Gay, an auditor for the Union Pacific Railroad, heard the news early and kept track of closings for 65 years. Upon arriving at obsolete stations, he would collect artifacts for display at a century-old depot that he had moved to his East Texas farm.

He took home railroad car linens, sugar tongs, spittoons, engine components, metal footstools and conductors’ caps, among other items made between the 1880s and the 1950s. But Mr. Gay, who died in January at 86, did not share the contents of the depot with visitors to the farm.

“I had no idea that he had this, absolutely none,” said Scott Franks, a longtime friend of Mr. Gay’s, who owns A&S Antique Auction Company in Waco, Tex. On March 10 and 11 A&S will be auctioning the Gay collection, divided into about 1,000 lots.

Mr. Gay started planning the A&S sale late last year. He told the company how he helped clear out old railroad stations. “He got pick of the litter,” Mr. Franks said.

But Mr. Gay died before he finished listing where everything came from. “We just run out of time,” Mr. Franks said.

Mr. Gay’s most valuable items are rail line advertisements on metal plaques a few feet wide, with estimates in the five figures.

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