Modern Living: Operation Auntie Fannie

The line on Manhattan's Madison Avenue started forming before 8 a.m. each day. By 10 it had reached the proportions of a queue for The Exorcist or a new Linda Lovelace flick, except that there was something different about these people: everyone seemed to be clutching some kind of precious bundle. In fact, bundles of cash are what many of those in line now expect to get.

The occasion was a four-day "Heirloom Discovery Week," mounted by Sotheby Parke Bernet, the world's largest art auction house. Its purpose: to lure out of attics and dusty desuetude valuables deemed worthy of sale on...

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