A silver tea service and tableware that were given to Baltimore writer H. L. Mencken and his wife, Sara Haardt, as a wedding gift in 1930 are going up for auction. Credit: Sloans & Kenyon Auctioneers and Appraisers.

Some fans of Baltimore writer Henry Louis Mencken collect signed copies of his books, including first editions.

This week a different sort of Mencken item is up for sale.

Sloans & Kenyon Auctioneers and Appraisers in Chevy Chase is offering the silver tea service and tableware that were given to H. L. Mencken and Sara Haardt Mencken when they were married on August 27, 1930.

The tea service and related items were a wedding gift from the board of the A. S. Abell Company, then-owner of The Sun, The Sunday Sun and The Evening Sun, where Mencken worked at the time. The gift was presented by then-publisher William Schmick Sr. Now it’s being sold by William Schmick III, the son and grandson of A. S. Abell publishers, who came to own the collection after Mencken died.

The Mencken silver can be viewed online now on the auctioneer’s website and previewed in person before the sale, starting on Saturday, Nov. 12. The auction that includes the Mencken silver starts Thursday, Nov. 17, at noon.

“This silver was presented to journalist and Baltimore Sunday Sun editor H. L. Mencken at the time of his 1930 marriage to Sara Haardt, a German-American novelist and professor, by the A. S. Abell Co. President and Publisher of The Baltimore Sun newspapers,” states the auctioneers’ catalog entry. “It descended to Mencken’s brother August, then to William Schmick Jr., the publisher of The Baltimore Sun at the time, and then by descent through the Schmick family.”

The silver collection is a memento of a tragically-short Baltimore love story: the marriage of Mencken and his bride, which lasted less than five years. It provides a glimpse into the way people lived, and treated themselves, at the end of the Roaring Twenties, just before the Great Depression. It shows how generous a certain employer could be to at least one member of its staff.

Before his marriage, Mencken (1880 to 1956) was known as America’s foremost bachelor, and a vocal critic of marriage. “Bachelors know more about women than married men,” he once wrote. “If they didn’t, they’d be married too.” Another time he remarked, “If I ever marry, it will be on sudden impulse, as a man shoots himself.”

Mencken also didn’t like Southerners and suffragists. But that changed after he met Haardt (1898 to 1935), a Southern suffragist from Montgomery, Alabama, 18 years younger than he was.

Sara Haardt and Henry Louis Mencken. Photo courtesy of Goucher College.

The year was 1923 and he visited Goucher College to give a lecture entitled, ironically, “How to Get a Husband.” Haardt, a 1920 Goucher graduate and recently-hired instructor, was in the audience. During a dinner party following the lecture, they spoke about her writing and Mencken asked Haardt to send him some of her short stories, for possible inclusion in The Smart Set, a publication he edited.

That began a seven-year courtship, much of it conducted through letters, hundreds in all. They’re collected in a book edited by 1981 Goucher graduate Marion Elizabeth Rodgers, entitled “Mencken & Sara: A Life in Letters: The Private Correspondence of H. L. Mencken and Sara Haardt.”

The Menckens were married in a brief ceremony at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, moved up a week to avoid the press, with only 10 guests and a photographer. It meant that Mencken was no longer a confirmed bachelor and no longer on the prowl for “cuties,” apparently one of the motives for his talk at Goucher, an all-female college at the time. “It is a grand experience to be able to look a hotel detective in the eye,” he later confided to a friend.

A silver tea service and tableware that were given to Baltimore writer H. L. Mencken and his wife, Sara Haardt, as a wedding gift in 1930 are going up for auction. Credit: Sloans & Kenyon Auctioneers and Appraisers.

The newlyweds lived in a third-floor, front-facing apartment at 704 Cathedral St. in Mount Vernon, next to the old Alcazar Hotel, not far from the Sun’s offices. They entertained frequently, apologizing for the lack of an elevator in their building and promising “comfortable chairs and a stocked bar” for those who made it to their floor, according to “H. L. Mencken and Sara Haardt on Cathedral Street,” an account written by Ryan Artes for BaltimoreHeritage.com.

Haardt had spent long periods of her adulthood battling tuberculosis. The disease returned in 1934, while she and her husband were on a trip to Europe and the Middle East. She died on May 31, 1935, and is buried in the Mencken family plot at Loudon Park Cemetery. Her cause of death was meningitis, the result of complications from tuberculosis.

In her 2007 biography, “Mencken: The American Iconoclast,” Rodgers quotes Mencken recalling that before he married his wife, doctors warned she could not live more than three years due to her fragile health. “Actually, she lived five, so that I had two more years of happiness than I had any right to expect,” Mencken reasoned.

A year after his wife’s death, Mencken moved back to his family’s home at 1524 Hollins St. in Union Square and never remarried. He lived with his brother August Mencken Jr. (1889-1967) until his death in 1956. The building at 704 Cathedral St., called the William H. Graham House, is now part of the Baltimore School for the Arts.

“It turned out to be completely unendurable, living in this apartment. It was too full of reminders, and too dreadfully empty and lonely,” he wrote to Joseph Hergesheimer on March 19, 1936. “I am going back to Hollins Street with my brother August, and taking Hester [Denby, a cook and housekeeper] and Emma [Ball, a cook and general domestic] along.”

‘The life of kings’

Today Mencken is considered by many to be one of the greatest newspaper journalists of the 20th century — witty, insightful and controversial, a towering figure on the cultural landscape who was called both “the Sage of Baltimore” and “the Bad Boy of Baltimore.”

Mencken is remembered for his biting editorials and acerbic opinion pieces, some of which have held up well over time and others reflecting views so bigoted they likely couldn’t be published today. He fought for free speech and civil liberties, played a prominent role in the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925, battled press censorship and exposed fraud and grift. An expert on language, he helped define American letters in his books and his writings for The Smart Set and The American Mercury.

Mencken’s books include “The American Language” and “The American Language, Supplements I and II;” “Notes on Democracy;” “Happy Days, 1880-1892;” “Newspaper Days, 1899-1906;” “Heathen Days, 1890-1936;” and “A Mencken Chrestomathy,” which he edited. Numerous collections of his work have been edited by others, including Rodgers, Theo Lippman Jr.; Terry Teachout and Jonathan Yardley.

Though he gained national attention and traveled extensively, Mencken always recalled his Baltimore newspaper days with fondness. “As I look back over a misspent life,” he wrote to a friend shortly before he died, “I find myself more and more convinced that I had more fun doing news reporting than in any other enterprise. It is really the life of kings.”

Haardt was hired to teach in Goucher’s English department at age 23, a year after she graduated, making her the youngest member of its faculty. With Mencken as her mentor, she completed a novel, a movie script, newspaper reviews and articles, essays and more than 50 short stories, and had started a second novel before she died. In 1933, she was nominated for the prestigious O. Henry Award for her short story “Absolutely Perfect.” But she never received the recognition her husband did.

“Overshadowed by a more famous husband and needing to produce many works to earn a living, in addition to possible gender bias from literary critics, Sara Haardt has been denied a place of importance among southern writers,” wrote Ann Hensley in the Encyclopedia of Alabama. “Nonetheless, her keen insights into the people of the South and her lyric descriptions of its places make her an important forerunner of writers such as Carson McCullers, Eudora Welty and Josephine Humphreys.”

Happy Days

The silverware is a symbol of their happier times. The tea service was made in 1929 by the Gorham Manufacturing Company of Providence, Rhode Island. The larger collection contains dozens of pieces, including a pitcher; goblets; gravy ladle, martini stirrer and table bell. Each piece bears a demi-hind (half-deer) motif from the Mencken family crest.

A pitcher, bearing a demi-hind (half-deer) motif from the Mencken family crest, is among the items being auctioned off. Credit: Sloans & Kenyon Auctioneers and Appraisers.

According to Schmick III, August Mencken inherited the silver when his brother died. When August died in 1967, he left it in his will to William Schmick Jr., who succeeded his father as the Sun’s publisher and who also knew H. L. Mencken. Schmick Jr. then gave it to his son before he died.

Schmick III, now 81, was a Sun reporter and editor from 1964 to 1976, including stints as a foreign correspondent based in Rome but covering mainly North Africa and the Middle East, and as the city editor for six years. A 1963 Princeton graduate, he also worked for Gannett’s News Service in Washington; Dow Jones News’s Washington Bureau and Bloomberg. He retired in 2010.

Schmick III said he and his wife Chancey used the Mencken flatware on special occasions, but they kept many of the pieces in storage in a safe at the Mercantile Safe Deposit and Trust Company building on Redwood Street.

“There was a trunkful of stuff that we never used,” he said. “But we did use the flatware. Only with guests, but we always felt very proud of the Mencken connection. It’s beautiful silverware and it has the Mencken crest on it.”

Because they’ve been stored away, the pieces in the trunk have had little wear in recent years. Schmick III said he’s selling the silver because he and his wife recently moved from a house in Ruxton and are downsizing.

August Mencken left the tea service to William Schmick Jr. because Schmick Sr. had died in 1963 and there was a close relationship between the two families, Schmick III explained. He noted that his grandfather and Henry Mencken both started working for the Abell company at the same time and had come from the same previous newspaper.

“There was a strong connection,” he said. “Henry Mencken was at the Sun at the same time as my grandfather. My grandfather became publisher and my father succeeded him, so there was a relationship between the paper and the families.”

A bell and two goblets, bearing a demi-hind (half-deer) motif from the Mencken family crest, are among the items being auctioned off. Credit: Sloans & Kenyon Auctioneers and Appraisers.

His grandfather had good taste in wedding presents, he said. “It was a pretty marvelous tea service.”

All of the pieces are sterling silver. The sale is in five lots. They include:

Lot 69: A pair of goblets and a table bell. Pre-sale estimate: $150 to $250;

Lot 70: A water pitcher. Pre-sale estimate: $400 to $600;

Lot 71A: 10 assorted serving implements, including an Old Newbury Crafters hand wrought stuffing spoon, a large serving spoon; martini stirrer, pair of tablespoons and a serving fork, medium serving spoon and a gravy ladle, Georg Jensen two-tine olive fork and ‘shovel form’ salt spoon. Pre-sale estimate: $300 to $500.

Lot 72A: 71-piece partial flatware service in the “Dolly Madison” pattern, sold by the Hennegan Bates Company of Baltimore, including 12 dinner knives; 10 dinner forks; 12 cream soup spoons; 10 iced tea spoons; 12 demitasse spoons, 9 seafood forks; and 6 flat-handle butter knives. Pre-sale estimate: $900 to $1,200.

Lot 73: A four-piece coffee and tea service, including a coffee pot; tea pot; creamer and sugar bowl. Each is an urn-shaped vessel on a circular pedestal base; the pots have “swan’s neck” spouts and domed covers. Pre-sale estimate: $1,000 to $1,500.

P. Raab Christhilf, a representative for the auctioneer, said the sale may be of interest to local historians and institutions, such as the stewards of the H. L. Mencken House on Hollins Street, now a house museum; Goucher College; The Enoch Pratt Free Library; The Mencken Society, and The Maryland Center for History and Culture, or it could go to a private collector. He said the connection to the Mencken and Schmick families gives it significance beyond the quality and condition of the silver alone.

The sale is Sloans & Kenyon’s November Estate Catalogue Auction, and there is no reserve. The auction house is at 5550 Friendship Boulevard in Chevy Chase. Items in the sale can be viewed in person from 11 am. to 4 p.m. on November 12, 14, 15, 16 and 17, the day of the auction. The Mencken items can also be viewed and bid upon through two national bidding platforms, invaluable.com and liveauctioneers.com. Phone bids and absentee bids can be placed through Sloans & Kenyon at 301-634-2330.

The silver was always a topic of discussion with dinner guests, Schmick III said.

“It’s fun,” he said. Like him or not, “Mencken is in a league of his own.”

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Ed Gunts

Ed Gunts is a local freelance writer and the former architecture critic for The Baltimore Sun.

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