|By Eric C. Rodenberg
KINGSPORT, Tenn. – Among the residents of the Mountain Empire, which not only includes the mountainous counties in northeastern Tennessee but also a portion of southwest Virginia, many of the folks here knew, respected and loved David “Doc” Berry.
After receiving his Doctorate in Pharmacy from the University of Tennessee Memphis, Dave opened and operated Berry’s Pharmacy in Kingsport in 1964, an old-fashioned drug store built on the owner’s tireless hours behind the counter, a genuine interest in his customers and his personal generosity.
For 50 years, customers from throughout the Mountain Empire frequented Berry’s Pharmacy through both the good and bad economic years in these foothills of Appalachia. When a family came upon hard times and couldn’t afford medicine, Berry would often exchange his medications for antiques.
“Dave was known for his charismatic, warm and generous personality,” according to the local newspaper, the Kingsport Times-News. “He had an extreme enthusiasm for life and a special way of connecting to people.”
“He was the kind of guy, who if you had to go to Memphis and didn’t have any money, he’d reach into his pocket and give you $48 for bus fare,” Auctioneer Kimball M. Sterling said.
Early in his career, Berry got the “collecting bug.” He initially started in classic automobiles, becoming a founding member of the Daniel Boone Region Antique Car Club, and then an honorary member of the Kingsport Antique and Rod Club.
His favorite car was a 1935 LaSalle convertible, a completely restored luxury car with a 248-cubic-inch straight eight flathead engine that produced more than 100 horsepower, according to a longtime friend Mike Smith. With all original parts, the LaSalle was one of only 850 produced in 1935, earning the Senior designation by the Antique Automobile Club of America.
Berry enjoyed “tooling” around Kingsport in his LaSalle, particularly after he retired, and a daughter took over his burgeoning business. A granddaughter is also studying to become a pharmacist.
In 2017, shortly after his retirement, the building he operated from since the 1960s was sold and, consequently, a new location was found offering more parking and a convenient drive-thru for customers.
Berry died on Oct. 31, 2018, at the age of 81.
When his estate came up for liquidation, Sterling discovered that Berry had not only kept everything at his office. His home, his 4-car garage and another structure were “packed to the ceilings.”
“In my 33 years in this business, I have never found as much,” Sterling said. “It was really a surprise. I think he started out with cars, went to auto parts and then after that, he collected everything. I know he took a lot of these items out in trade and over a long period of time.
“We’d find a nice antique toy that would bring $500, and then a collection of Indian relics that brought $2,000, advertising memorabilia, old pharmaceutical bottles … just when we thought we found everything, something else would come out.”
“He was a collector, who also was an accumulator,” Sterling said. “I think, early on, his focus was automobile related items. And he spread out from there. He had a great eye that created this unbelievable collection.”
Sterling had already conducted four major auctions of the Berry estate in November and December but saved back many major items for his 30th Annual News Year’s Day auction at his gallery in nearby Johnson City.
And a blow out it was. There were 250 highly competitive in-house bidders from nine states. About 150 lots were listed on the live auction platform Bidsquare, and several absentee bids were prepared, and the phones were “ringing in” Jan. 1.
Berry’s beloved 1935 LaSalle, a smooth running antique luxury car, purred to the final bid of $61,000, while a 1936 Ford Cabriolet “Resto-Mod” (defined among car fanciers as an automobile that retains its original vehicle appearances with modifications) sold for $44,000. The engine had been modified with a 283-cubic-inch engine and modifications were made to the drivetrain.
A collection of 400 enamel auto emblems sold for $7,500. These were generally restricted to luxury cars, comprised of beautifully designed manufacturer’s nameplates which could be found almost anywhere on the car, but often found on the radiator shell.
Another unique highlight of the New Year’s Berry estate was the collection of more than 100 mascot – or hood ornaments – of which many were mounted on marble stands and identified with plaques. The top lot among these imaginative and highly ornate ornaments was a Pierce Arrow mascot which sold for
Buried within the Berry trove were more than 3,000 auto license tags. Most of the old license plates sold between $200 and $300, with the top lot – a pair of 1954 Tennessee-shaped tags which fetched $525. An extremely rare 1938-1956 Kingsport , Tenn., shaped license plate frame sold for $600.
“It just doesn’t get any better than this,” Sterling said. “There was a little something for everyone. It was just exciting all the way, from beginning to end.”
Sterling Auctions will host the sixth and final sale of Berry’s estate at the late pharmacist’s home in Kingsport on Feb. 15.
“We’re still pulling things out of the attic … it’s piled up to the ceiling,” Sterling said. “I don’t have any idea what’s in there. It could be anything from everything I’ve seen until now. We’ve put over 500 hours into this sale already. But, it’s all been worth it.”
Contact: (423) 773-4073