clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:


After 22 years as an obsessive collector, Peter P. Cecere is putting his Ecuadoran python skin, his Japanese kamikaze waistband and his antique urinal from Holland - and much, much more - on the auction block this weekend.

Crated and trucked away from Cecere's home in suburban Reston, Va., are scores of ceremonial masks and devil dolls from South America. He's blown his last oompah on the old brass tuba from Bohemia. He's bid adios to the Spanish butcher's shop sign, decorated with bull, goat and ram's heads, 16 meat hooks and 58 iron flowers with light sockets.Frankly, he says, it's a huge relief.

"Your collection becomes your wife, your children, your mistress," he said. "It owns you and limits your options. In a certain benign way, it enslaves you."

Cecere estimates he has spent $175,000 compulsively gobbling up folk art, antiques, outrageous gewgaws and wondrous kitsch during his travels as a Foreign Service officer with the U.S. Information Agency in Bolivia, Uruguay, Mexico, Ecuador and Barcelona, Spain.

He collected seashells, toy trains and Civil War memorabilia as a kid in Brooklyn, N.Y., but his passion became a consuming mania in 1968, when he visited an exhibition of Indian folk art in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

"It was an apocalyptic event, like the scales falling from the eyes of St. Paul," he said. "I went ape. I was jumping up and down with joy and unbridled happiness. I knew my life would never be the same. I started buying stuff right there. The madness had begun."

At one point, he was spending $1,400 a month on things like ostrich eggs, walrus tusks, octopus traps and antique flatirons, tobacco tins, patent medicine bottles, hand-forged tools and a 19th century infant potty seat with original leather upholstery.

Before he quit cold turkey last fall, Cecere had amassed more than 20,000 artifacts. His five-bedroom house was overflowing. The stuff filled the bathrooms and even hung from the ceilings. The walls were literally buckling and cracking under the weight, he said.