It’s set-up day at Ritchies Auctioneers, and president Dirk Heinze is weaving his way around totem poles, a female skeleton dangling from a metal hanger, wooden shelves stacked with beaded moccasins, and sturdy folded tables laden with delicate ancient figurines, a blue-and-white ceramic Uzi and hand grenade, poison-dart quivers, hand-carved tribal masks and a mummified hand. Paintings lean against every available bit of wall, and two framed Keith Haring tiles are stacked facedown on a cardboard box.
On Sunday, Ritchies will welcome buyers from all over the world to “Treasures of a Lifetime” – an auction of 320 pieces from the collection of rock-star collector Billy Jamieson. He died of a heart attack in July, 2011, at the age of 57, in his 6,000-square-foot Wellington Street loft-cum-museum, surrounded by thousands of treasures amassed over two decades of travels around the globe. The eight-episode series Treasure Trader , which aired on History Television after Jamieson’s death, documented the exploits of he and his fiancée and business partner, Jessica Phillips, who helped curate the auction along with Ritchies president Dirk Heinze.
“He was Indiana Jones meets Gene Simmons,” says Heinze, who befriended Jamieson in the mid-1990s. “He had this magnetism to him. He was incredibly disarming. He treated everyone, from a member of the Hell’s Angels to an academic at the ROM, the same.”
Jamieson, who grew up in Brampton and dropped out of school when he was just 14, was a rarity in the world of rarities: a self-taught collector who became a world-renowned dealer of tribal art. But Jamieson also sought out the bizarre and macabre, including electric chairs, instruments of torture and shrunken heads – all of which added a frisson of horror to his legendary Halloween parties, which drew a who’s-who of the cultural underground.
When he bought the defunct Niagara Falls Museum in 1999, he discovered a mummy that turned out to be Ramses I and was eventually repatriated to Egypt. The find propelled him to international stardom in the collecting world, and his clients ranged from the ROM and the Metropolitan Museum of Art to Mick Jagger and Aerosmith front man Steve Tyler.
As Heinze stands in the middle of the room – which, by auction day, will be transformed into part museum gallery, part Indiana Jones’s office – he speaks with yearning of some of the pieces left behind at Jamieson’s loft. “The auction is meant to represent the spectrum of his entire collection,” says Heinze. “For Billy, it wasn’t necessarily the object, it was the story. This collection is an anthology of the most intriguing, bizarre stories you could possibly imagine.”
“He really did accomplish an extraordinary amount in a short period of time,” he adds sadly. “He was the kind of collector who really doesn’t exist anymore – he was willing to share his home, his time and his collection.”
The auction begins Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Ritchies office at 777 Richmond Street West. Here are eight of the lots up for sale.