Auctioneer James L. “Jimmy” Riley, 83, who for decades entertained Lexingtonians with his spirited antiques sales, died Sunday.
Riley co-founded Thompson & Riley Ltd. with E.I. “Buddy” Thompson Jr. in 1964. The company started in the Gratz Park area but for decades was at 710 East Main Street.
For some, the auction house’s regular daytime sales were as much a social event as a shopping excursion. Over the years, Riley sold a variety of unique items, including a letter written by Abraham Lincoln and a rare silver tea set that went for $100,000.
A 1997 Herald-Leader article said that as many as 600 people would come to the sales, which Riley ran in a comedic, fast-paced style.
“Riley knows the regulars — their names, their buying habits, their limits,” the article stated. “He teases, jokes, scolds and cajoles. To a buyer who makes a very low opening bid, he says, in mock disgust, ‘Show her out the door!’ To a man waits who until the last moment to bid, he exclaims, ‘It’s about time you woke up, Theodore!’”
Riley would begin each sale in a starched shirt, sport coat and tie, but the energetic nature of his sales meant he soon lost the coat and loosened the tie.
“You get up there and start moving and come out of your clothes,” he said in 1997.
His partner, Thompson, who also was a historian locally known for his book “Madam Belle Brezing,” died in 1996. Riley sold the company in 2000.
Riley was a Lexington native who graduated from Latin High School and attended Xavier University and the University of Kentucky. He served in the Army during the Korean war.
He is survived by his wife of 58 years, Mary Virginia “Cissy” Richardson Riley, three daughters and five grandchildren.
Services will be at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Cathedral of Christ the King. Visitation is 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Milward Funeral Directors on Broadway.