Garth’s Auctions—a staple in the Americana market for decades—is gone.
According to a settlement agreement between Garth’s Auctions, Inc., and its CEO, Richard “Jeff” Jeffers, and the Ohio Department of Agriculture, which regulates auctions in Ohio, Jeffers and Garth’s are “permanently ineligible for auctioneering licenses in the state of Ohio.”
The settlement, signed September 29, states that Jeffers and Garth’s will take no further consignments and must return any clients’ property in their possession within 30 days. Further, the agreement states that Garth’s and Jeffers will “pay all funds owed to his existing and former clients, or will make a good faith effort to enter into a payment agreement to repay all funds owed…within 90 days of the execution of the agreement.”
It was the final act for the auction house, founded in 1954 by Garth Oberlander.
Garth’s has been plagued recently with complaints from consignors who were not paid on a timely basis or not paid at all.
On September 21 complaint No. 1038780 was entered by the office of Dave Yost, the attorney general of Ohio. The person who filed the complaint was Ohio collector Debra Primovic, who formally accused Garth’s Auctioneers of Delaware, Ohio, of not paying her for her recent consignments. She alleged in the complaint that she was owed $9862.50 for objects sold in the April 16 “Eclectic Decorative Arts” auction and the July 11 “The Eclectic Gentleman” auction held by Garth’s.
On October 20 we asked Primovic if she’d been paid. Her answer was simple: “Nope.” She added, “No communication, no payment, no nothing.”
She alleges she’s owed more than $9862.50. “There’s a couple of things that didn’t sell that they usually put back through the auction. I don’t know if they’ve sold them or not.
“I called multiple times before I could get anyone to even call me back,” Primovic said. “I sent a letter of intent, letting them know I was going to contact the Better Business Bureau and the attorney general if I did not hear something.”
According to Primovic, ten days after sending the letter, Jeff Jeffers called and allegedly told her, “We can’t pay you.” She said she asked, “‘What’s the plan? Can I get a partial payment? Anything?’ He was just pretty much ‘no.’”
Primovic said she never received a final end-of-auction accounting. She checked online and saw some of her objects that didn’t sell—“a couple of minor things,” she said—and she doesn’t know whether those objects were sold or are still held by the auction house. “I just don’t know,” she said.
“My parents were in the business. My grandparents were in the business. A lot of the things I consigned were purchased at Garth’s. I remember going up there when I was a little girl—to their Delaware [Ohio] auction barn. These were things they had accumulated. My dad passed, and my mom wanted to start selling some things. They had dealt with Garth’s forever. They thought it would be fine, and it wasn’t.”
Primovic isn’t the only person who is owed money.
On September 22 Chester Daxe filed a lawsuit in Franklin County Municipal Court Small Claims Division. According to the suit, he’s owed $1270. The complaint is short. “Garth’s Auctions sold my 4 lots at the June 11, 2023 auction and never sent an accounting of the sale proceeds and did not provide a check or payment for the proceeds of my 4 consigned lots.”
Shippenville, Pennsylvania, dealers Ron and Carol Harris sent 180 lots to be sold at Garth’s in late summer 2022. “He [Jeff Jeffers] sent a truck over. They charged us $1500 for that truck to bring things over to Columbus,” said Carol Harris. “It took them a while to evaluate things.”
The Harrises’ consignments were first sold in January 2023. “It was about ten objects,” said Harris. “It was the bigger pieces of furniture, and they did not bring what they should have,” she said, adding that the entire consignment was unreserved. Of the 180 lots, the Harrises took back about five things that the couple and Garth’s could not agree on valuing.
Then Garth’s sold several of their objects in February, according to Harris. “I don’t know what sold because they never sent us an accounting,” said Carol Harris. “After a couple of months, a new girl sent us an accounting. She said she didn’t know how to run the computer program. She only sent an almost blank page that said $6005. We’re assuming that’s what we’re owed.”
A consignor settlement report was sent to Harris August 16—179 days after the objects sold on February 19. The balance showed the Harrises were owed $5952.40.
The Harrises were paid for their January consignments. “But that was around August of this year,” Carol said, noting that it was well beyond the 42 days that the contract stipulated for payment.
Carol told M.A.D. that after she had called us to inquire about Garth’s, Jeffers called her. “He was rather upset that I told you what happened,” she said. “He said he would bring our things back in about a week.” According to Harris, Jeffers rented a U-Haul truck, loaded it himself, and drove to Shippenville, about a five-hour drive.
“We felt for him,” said Carol. “When you’re under that kind of pressure—we’ve been there.” After he was done unloading, the Harrises gave Jeffers $100 and a turkey bacon ranch sandwich they bought for him at Arby’s.
In an email to M.A.D., Carol Harris wrote, “We know it was a long, tiring day for him. He was gracious, apologetic, and professional in everything he did.” She said he told her he would work on getting them paid, with interest, but as of press time, payment has not been received.
The Harrises said two of their paintings are still held by Garth’s, and they’ve been unable to retrieve them. The Harrises could use the money. Ron has been battling cancer, and his medical care is expensive, said Carol.
On October 25 another small claims case was filed by Ruby Kerr of Evanston, Illinois. According to Kerr, she’s been a collector and dealer for most of her life, mostly folk art and ethnographic art. After she retired, she moved from Milwaukee to Evanston. “I sold most of the collection myself,” she said. “But getting ready to move, I said ‘Oh, I’ve got a lot of stuff left.’ We had bought things from Garth’s before.... Jeff came to Milwaukee in February and made an inventory, and I signed a contract. The first auction, [in] May, I got paid for. The second one—where most of the quality stuff was—was…June, and I have not been paid. There have been many calls and emails, all of which have been ignored.”
Kerr said she is owed $2135. “I followed the auction online, but I never received an acknowledgment of what sold,” she said. “It’s very discouraging. I’m retired, and I need the money.”
M.A.D. asked the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) if there had been any complaints against Garth’s. We didn’t get many answers. A public records request returned to M.A.D. noted “Please be aware that your request includes confidential law enforcement records which are from an ongoing investigation.”
Ohio has an Auction Recovery Fund (ARF) that allows people to seek recovery and compensation for losses when a licensee violates Ohio auction law. A complainant may be eligible to receive compensation from the ARF in an amount up to $25,000 or $50,000, depending on the license status of the auctioneer. The limit of $50,000 is for the lifetime of the business. The website of the ODA points out that if the actual and direct losses experienced “by more than one person exceed the limits of recovery,” ODA will make a pro rata distribution to the claimants based upon the ratio of the respective claims to the aggregate of valid claims. According to ODA, there were seven formal complaints against Garth’s in 2023.
Jeffers declined to answer questions but provided a statement on October 30. “Since our physical move into downtown Columbus and the historic space in 2019, we have fought an uphill battle against expense. We took on a lease for a marvelous building...but in hindsight, paying that much for an auction facility lease was a mistake. Adding insult to injury, I stayed with it to try and make it work for way too long. A year later, attempting to balance the rent and all of the challenges of COVID, I took on some high-interest financing that unfavorably contributed to overhead and expense. Along the way, I’ve committed my retirement savings to keep it moving.
“Amid major depression, I’ve done my best to try to navigate the company out of debt, and in doing so, operated more shortsightedly. The best move forward is for me to sell the company, commit all sales proceeds to clients and debt, and exit the industry.”
Before agreeing to the settlement, Garth’s had secured a plum consignment—the collection of Bruce and Vivalyn Knight. Originally scheduled to be sold November 4 and 5, the Knight collection of Americana, folk art, and decorative arts will now be sold January 5 and 6 by Amelia Jeffers, the ex-wife of Jeff, who left Garth’s in 2017. The sale will be held at the Barn at Stratford in Stratford, Ohio, home of Garth’s sales for years.
Jeff Jeffers commented on the upcoming auction: “We are moving consignments to the proper operator— Amelia Jeffers. Although Amelia and I have not worked together in the auction business in nearly seven years, I’ve watched her build her auction business; her efforts have been impressive, with care and dedication. She is the perfect auctioneer to steward the incredible sixty-plus-year collection of Bruce and Vivalyn Knight.”
Originally published in the December 2023 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2023 Maine Antique Digest