As the clock ticked down on the Threadgill’s World Headquarters location last week, Eddie Wilson was seated at the first table in the dining room, still king of this doomed castle.
With the lunch crowd increasing steadily, he greeted a procession of friends and admirers. There were hugs and handshakes, pictures and praise.
Now the restaurant is closed: The last broccoli rice casserole has been served and the last notes of the last song have been played.
But there’s still one more thing. The auction this Saturday of almost everything that made up this Austin time capsule, right down to Wilson’s personal table. It’s No. 25 in the auction (see the online catalog here) and comes with five chairs — but not the raconteur himself.
Doors open at 8 a.m. on Dec. 8 at the restaurant at 301 W. Riverside Drive and the auction begins at 10 a.m. There will be an auction preview on Friday, Dec. 7, from noon until 6 p.m. New Braunfels-based Burley Auction Group will run the auction.
(If you are new to the auction process, you have to register before you can bid, and the auction house encourages you to register early as a long line is expected by the time the auction begins. You can register at the Friday preview. Also, if you have a winning bid, you pay the auction house what you bid, plus another 15% "buyer's premium" — so don't bid up to your last dollar.)
There are nearly 500 items up for bids and they include some of the larger signs that hung in the restaurant (The Flossie’s Beer neon is No. 100), some Threadgill’s-branded items (the Gospel Brunch sign is No. 27) and some historic beer artifacts (a Sabinas Beer tray is No. 199).
But the biggest stars on the auction stage on Saturday will be historic music posters and original photographs from the late Austin photographer Burton Wilson.
The music posters for sale have been supplemented by several dozen posters from an as-yet-unidentified Austin collector who attended these shows and has had the posters for decades. Those items will come with a signed note of authenticity from Wilson.
The breadth of quality posters up for bids is only rivaled by the last Wilson auction, held Jan. 2015 at the Burley Auction headquarters in New Braunfels.
As expected, there are plenty of Armadillo World Headquarters posters, including sought-after ones featuring Freddie King, Frank Zappa, Bruce Springsteen and Shiva’s Headband. But there are also very rare psychedelic Vulcan Gas posters and posters from the Austin Opry House, Soap Creek Saloon, Ritz Theatre and a few Willie Nelson Fourth of July Picnic posters.
The Burton Wilson photos, auctioneer Robb Burley said, were items that Wilson originally didn’t want to sell, but ultimately he decided to part with about 70 of them. Included are iconic photographs of Doug Sahm, Big Joe Williams, Springsteen and Zappa, as well as scenes from the Armadillo World Headquarters.
Two pieces of Austin history that had lived at Threadgill’s, but won’t be included in the auction are the giant Night Hawk neon sign and the Terminix bug (which is currently being restored by Todd Sanders at Roadhouse Relics). The fate of those two items has not been revealed.
Wilson’s previous auction with Burley drew a packed house and high bids and the same is expected this Saturday.
“Some of that stuff is just priceless heirlooms you can’t find anywhere else,” Burley said. “There’s a Jim Franklin original painting in there, Guy Juke original paintings. The old posters are probably going to be the biggest draw, but the biggest dollar values are going to be the original pieces from Franklin or the original pieces from Gilbert Shelton. Or the Janis Joplin pieces.”
In a nod to the history up for auction, Burley will ask Wilson to tell stories behind certain items before bidding begins.
“In some cases, there’s a better reason to want it, if you know the story that goes behind it,” Wilson said.
One of those items, Wilson said, is the expansive and antique Coca-Cola soda fountain sign that has long been a centerpiece in the main dining room at Threadgill’s World Headquarters (No. 33 in the catalog). Wilson says he was driving back to Austin one day when he spotted it sitting in the dirt behind a closed junk store.
The next day he hunted down the owner over the phone and the delicate sign was delivered to him in the back of a truck on top of a mattress.
Wilson says he’s paid a premium for his treasures over the years, but “I’ve been real fortunate in what I’ve picked to take my risks with.”