Geneva Addison and her mother, Julie Addison, conduct estate sales. Geneva called a few weeks ago and told me that they had been engaged to sell the contents of the Berkeley home of the late Alan Cohen. She said it was as quirky a collection of objects as she had ever seen. She was right.
The photo of the front two rooms of the house before the Addisons began organizing for the sale gives a sense of the large amounts of quirky things that Cohen collected and that they will be selling. A quote from a Depeche Mode song hung in what once was the dining room — “Everything Counts / In Large Amounts.”
The first of two sales will be this weekend.
Cohen was born in 1936. He earned degrees from Cal and Northwestern and worked in psychology emergency rooms at Highland Hospital and the Fairmont Hospital in San Leandro, a federally funded halfway house, as well as private practice.
Cohen was a collector his entire life, with record albums as the longest running collection. He began collecting figurines with an emphasis on pop culture in the 1970s. His most intense focus was on depictions of the rhinoceros in both two and three dimensions. He began collecting rhinos in the mid-1980s, and the collection includes hundreds of figures and scores of framed prints and photographs.
He stopped collecting only a few months before he died, in May. The collections were briefly frozen in time, but then came Geneva and Julie Addison, who worked for several weeks organizing the collections for the sales that will start this weekend. These photos just scratch the surface of what is for sale. I have seen a lot of quirk in my Quirky Berkeley quest, but never anything that approaches the Cohen collection.
There are thousands of albums in Cohen’s collection. For sale this weekend are mostly movie and musicals soundtracks.
Cohen wrote exhaustively about Berkeley history. His collection of books about the history of Berkeley, Oakland, Alameda County and California is for sale.
Most of the objects for sale are pop culture figurines that defy further categorization. I don’t think that there is a single one that I wouldn’t want for the hodgepodge lodge.
There is a large amount of rubber stamps, many with place names.
The bathroom has many pop culture bath toys (not shown) and vintage medical products.
I have never seen a carved coconut shell face — and here are six!
Psycho Ceramics (above) were novelty ceramics made by US-based Kreiss company and manufactured in Japan between the 1960s and 1970s. They are characterized by a crudeness that one might call “lovably fugly.” In addition to the Psycho Ceramics, Kreiss also made Crazy Creatures, Elegant Heirs, Beatniks, Nudeniks and a variety of weirdo collectible figures, mugs, banks and ashtrays.
Above: A shelf of elegant Disney ceramics
There are white ceramic and chalk ware figurines throughout, many in this case.
A pristine barber chair with a hand. There are many hands for sale.
Cohen’s five decades of collecting produced an astonishing assortment of collected objects. He was not working off a checklist of stamps or coins or toys — he was operating in a vast universe of objects that caught his eye. His obsession produced a collection that almost defies description and that exceeds anything I have seen anywhere. With the sale, the hope is that the objects he loved will find good homes with people who appreciate them.
Tom Dalzell, a labor lawyer, created a website, Quirky Berkeley, to share all the whimsical objects he has captured with his iPhone. The site now has more than 8,000 photographs of quirky objects around town as well as posts where the 30-plus-year resident muses on what it all means. A longer and more idiosyncratic post about Alan Cohen and his collections may be seen at Quirky Berkeley.
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