Follow for more talkers


World’s biggest Norman Rockwell collection up for sale

Rockwell painted portraits for US Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon.

Avatar photo


Norman Rockwell cover art for the Saturday Evening Post in 1943. (Hansons via SWNS)

By Adam Dutton via SWNS

The world’s biggest collection of memorabilia relating to iconic artist Norman Rockwell is up for sale.

British man Peter Schonthal spent more than 40 years amassing the hoard of 'everything Rockwell' during hundreds of trips to the United States.

He scoured the length and breadth of the USA for anything relating to the celebrated illustrator and kept the items in a 40ft air-conditioned summer house in his garden.

The collector died in 2014 and his his wife is now selling around 3,000 items via Hansons Auctioneers, on October 19.

The works of Norman Rockwell (1894-1978) have broad popular appeal for their reflection of American culture.

He is most famous for his cover illustrations of everyday life which he created for The Saturday Evening Post magazine over nearly five decades.

Among his best-known works are the Willie Gillis series, Rosie the Riveter, The Problem We All Live With, Saying Grace, and the Four Freedoms series.

He is also noted for his 64-year relationship with the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), during which he produced covers for their calendars, and drawings for their publication, Boys' Life.

These works include images that reflect the Scout Oath and Scout Law such as The Scoutmaster, A Scout Is Reverent and A Guiding Hand, among many others.

Rockwell was a 1939 recipient of the Silver Buffalo Award, the highest adult award given by the Boy Scouts of America.

He was a prolific artist, producing more than 4,000 original works in his lifetime. Most are in public collections.

He was also commissioned to illustrate more than 40 books, including Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn as well as painting portraits for Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon.

He captured actress Judy Garland and one of his last portraits was of Colonel Sanders in 1973.

He also created artwork for advertisements for Coca-Cola, Jell-O, General Motors, Scott Tissue, and other companies.

His talent enhanced booklets, catalogs, posters, movie promotions, sheet music, stamps, playing cards and murals, including ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’ and ‘God Bless the Hills,' which was completed in 1936 for the Nassau Inn in Princeton, New Jersey.

Many of his works appeared overly sweet to contemporary critics, especially his Saturday Evening Post covers which were described as sentimentalized portrayals of American life. This led to the adjective ‘Rockwellesque.'

Frequently his work was denounced as bourgeois and kitsch.

However, in later years, he began receiving more highbrow attention when he chose more serious subjects, such as a series on racism for Look magazine - which features in the collection set for auction.

One piece, The Problem We All Live With, examined the issue of school racial integration. The painting depicts a young black girl, Ruby Bridges, flanked by white federal marshals, walking to school past a wall defaced by racist graffiti. This 1964 painting was displayed in the White House. A Ruby Bridges doll is also featured in the collection.

Charles Hanson, owner of Hansons Auctioneers, said: “We believe this is the first time a Rockwell collection of this magnitude has ever come to auction.

"It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to purchase a vast array of artwork relating to this legendary American artist.

“Peter truly appreciated Rockwell’s talent and, as a collector, displayed admirable dedication.

"He had cabinets specially made for his finds including one with 16 drawers full of newspapers featuring Rockwell’s work.

"Magazines featuring Rockwell art were protected with acid-proof paper.

“Over time Peter became a renowned Rockwell expert, loaned pieces to museums and collaborated with curators from America’s Rockwell Museum.

"They got to know him because he visited the museum so much.

"He was an Englishman in love with Americana and his devotion has left an important historical legacy, one Rockwell himself would have been proud of.”

Peter accumulated thousands of eclectic items and once even talked a postal shop owner into selling him an entire revolving stand of Rockwell fridge magnets.

His 74-year-old wife said her husband's obsession with Rockwell began when he was just a boy and continued right up until his death.

She said: “My husband’s fascination with Americana began when he was a boy of eight or nine in the early 1950s.

"He had an aunt in New York who used to send him comics and sweets, things you couldn’t get in England. He had a thing about America from then on.

“Nearly 40 years ago, while visiting friends in Massachusetts, we went to the Rockwell Museum and I bought him a book about his artwork. That really started things off.

"Peter began collecting everything from prints, jigsaws, figures, ties and tins to magazines and dolls that were used as props in Rockwell paintings.

“We visited America hundreds of times to trawl markets, garage sales and particularly the Brimfield Antiques Flea Market in Massachusetts, the largest antique and collectors fair in the USA.

"We went all over the States, from Vermont to Long Island. It was crazy but I have wonderful memories.

“At Brimfield one day, Peter spotted a closed box underneath a seller’s table. It turned out to be full of original Saturday Evening Post newspapers featuring Rockwell’s work.

"That started something else. He started collecting Saturday Evening Posts dating back to the 1800s.

“He loved the thrill of the find. He had no end of stuff shipped back to England. His passion intensified over the years, especially after he was diagnosed with cancer and then multiple sclerosis.

"He emersed himself in his Rockwell collection. It helped to get him through tough times.

“His favorite piece of Rockwell art was The Tattooist, a painting of a beefy chap having a tattoo of a lady’s name put on his arm - with other names crossed out.

"He just loved that picture, so much so we had a stained-glass window made of The Tattooist. I can’t let that go.”

Proceeds from 'The Norman Rockwell Collection' will be donated to a hospice.

Stories and infographics by ‘Talker Research’ are available to download & ready to use. Stories and videos by ‘Talker News’ are managed by SWNS. To license content for editorial or commercial use and to see the full scope of SWNS content, please email [email protected] or submit an inquiry via our contact form.

Top Talkers