SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO, CA, JUNE 18, 2019 – Turner Auctions + Appraisals is pleased to present the Peck Family Historical Collection on Sunday, June 30, 2019 at 10:30 am PDT. The sale offers very diverse and eclectic items acquired by three generations of Peck family members, from the late 1880s to present day – great-grandfather Dr. Albert Peck, long-time a medical missionary then physician for China's first president; grandfather Llewellyn Peck, who was born in Tienstin (Tianjin), China, and became editor of the Northern California newspaper Saratoga Star; and Llewellyn's son, Willys and his wife, Betty Wesson Peck, a Renaissance man and woman who were vital, esteemed and beloved members of the town of Saratoga, California.
Offering over 215 lots, this sale features artworks, autographed letters or photographs, collections of photographs and postcards, militaria, an Edison Home Phonograph and cylinders, early cameras and phones, toys and dolls, railroad lanterns, vintage European currency, stamps on letters, book collections, and much more. There are also several items from Japan and Tibet, and a wide selection from China, most from the 19th century. From China are medals; woven silk panels and embroideries; a silk robe; censers; opium pipes; carved figures, including jade; Kangxi and other vases; fingernail guards; a cloisonné bowl and vases; lacquer boxes; documents and an ancestor plaque; memorabilia from the Boxer Revolution; numerous photos and postcards; calligraphy and painted scrolls; scroll maps; paintings on paper; and landscape scrolls. American historical items include letters from Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy, a signed photo of a young Mark Twain, an 1867 award by President Andrew Johnson, and a reception invitation to the inauguration of Ulysses S. Grant. From World Wars I and II are books, soldiers' ephemera, and military clothing and helmets.
The multi-generational story of the Peck family is a captivating one, beginning with Dr. Albert Peck (1848-1923). Born in Racine, Wisconsin, he graduated from Rush Medical College in Chicago, where he was a physician and lecturer on eye diseases. Volunteering as a foreign missionary of the Congregational Church, he went to China in 1880, where he was in charge of the Williams Hospital in Pang Chia Chuang for many years. After 20+ years as a medical missionary, he entered private practice, where he held several important posts for the Chinese government, including Foreign Medical Attaché to the Pei Yang Government. Dr. Peck was consulting physician to Yuan Shi-Kai when that statesman led the reform movement that resulted in his election as President of the Republic of China in 1912. This ended the Qing dynasty and 2,000 years of imperial rule. In honor of his long and valued service, Dr. Peck was decorated with the Order of the Double Dragon by the Chinese Imperial government, and twice received the Order of the Bountiful Harvest under the new republic.
(Note that medals awarded to Dr. Peck are included in the upcoming auction. Other Chinese items in the sale come from Dr. Peck living in China for 30-40 years. Among these are legal documents from the Chinese Empire and the Chinese Republic signed by the Emperor and first President of the Republic, respectively; these are related to passports and permission to practice medicine in China signed by Yuan Shi-Kai.)
Dr. Peck's son, Llewellyn Peck (1886 – 1979), was born in the outskirts of Tianjin in northern China. Llewellyn and his siblings were sent to study at American universities. Llewellyn attended Pomona College and during World War I, served in the U.S. Army in the Balloon Corps as an artillery observer, which he believed to be the fastest way to get to the front lines. However, the Armistice in 1918 precluded Llewellyn from being able to serve in combat. A journalist in San Francisco early in his career, he moved to Saratoga to become publisher and editor of the local paper, Saratoga Star. A published poet and frequent contributor to the editorial columns of the Bay Area papers, Llewellyn later served as postmaster of Saratoga.
Llewellyn's son, Willys (1923-2013), was raised in Saratoga. He served in the Army during World War II in a division that helped liberate the Dachau concentration camp in 1945, and then graduated with a degree in journalism from UC Berkeley. Following in his father's footsteps, he began a long and storied career as a newspaperman, mostly at the San Jose Mercury News, where he was a writer and editor, renowned for his witty and clever headlines. But Willys had many more interests, skills and talents – including lawyer, train buff, Shakespearean scholar, poet and playwright. One particular passion was as Saratoga's town historian, and he was one of the founders of the Saratoga Historical Foundation. He also authored two books on Saratoga history and wrote extensively on topics of historic interest pertaining to his home town.
As a young newspaperman, Willys Peck met his wife, Betty Wesson (1921 - ), through mutual friends when she was teaching in Los Gatos. Reluctant to marry him until he owned a house, Willys did purchase a home in Saratoga for $12,000 and sent a telegram saying: “Have house. Will you marry me?” She accepted and they married in 1952. Celebrated in her own right, Betty was a beloved kindergarten teacher, described by a past student as a "fairy godmother." She taught kindergarten and mentored parents and teachers for over 50 years; she also founded the Easterbrook Farm School, now called the Los Gatos-Saratoga Observation Nursery School, which still thrives. Betty wrote two books on her early childhood education philosophy. She started the Saratoga Community Garden, an educational organic demonstration garden visited by over 6,000 children annually; hosted salons on cultural change and conversation with artists and educators every Thursday for over 30 years; and earned her Doctorate in Education from Nova Southeastern University in her 70s, writing her thesis about beauty.
Together Willys and Betty created a life of community, passions and joy, opening their home and hearts to all those who wished to enter. The house Willys purchased to secure Betty's agreement to marry him is one the couple lived in their entire lives and where their two children, Anna Peck Rainville and Willys ("Bill") Peck, Jr., had the good fortune to grow up. While the couple were never intentionally "collectors" per se, the house was filled with numerous acquisitions of their lives well-lived and family history. Throughout its intimate one-acre grounds are gardens, redwood and giant oak trees, statues, and flowers that harken back to Willys' rural childhood, before today's Silicon Valley burgeoned around them. It was there on the grounds – encircled by a narrow gauge train Willys built – that May Day celebrations were held for 100-150 people, where Christmas carols were sung each year by neighbors and friends, and where home-grown theater productions were performed in the outdoor amphitheater they created. Recognizing the many contributions they made to the community over decades, Willys and Betty Peck are immortalized with bronze statues in Saratoga's town square.
Now with a surfeit of eclectic items acquired by three generations over 100 years, the Pecks' children have decided to share treasures from their family’s history. These historical items from the "living museum" the Pecks called home, many pieces beautiful or unusual, reflect the family's wide-ranging interests, experiences and passions. As Anna says about her parents, "Through their community support and welcoming nature, they truly believed in what it means to be part of a town. They were in love with each other, life and people, and by opening their hearts, all came to them." Now, as others have the opportunity to enjoy some of the family's unique items, perhaps this joyful spirit will inspire others.
Learn more about Willys and Betty Peck:
By Turner Auctions + Appraisals LLC
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