New Canaan couple help sell Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz artifacts
NEW CANAAN — From the moment you step into the Buttery Road home of William and Maida Webster, evidence of their many collections is visible.
In a corner of the living room is a glass display case of Victorian-era napkin holders. On the walls of the dining room hangs a collection of New Deal-era prints.
Through the dining room, down the stairs and past William’s “shipping center,” where items purchased online from the Websters are shipped out in the hundreds each month, are rows of shelves stacked high with retro board games, collectible dolls, action figures, hats and countless other miscellany.
But Maida is quick to point out the order in the seeming disarray. “Keep an open mind; this is organized,” she said in the course of a recent house tour, as she led the way to the basement, past orderly groupings of curios.
Together, the objects comprise the stock of the Websters’ online auction business, known as Connectibles, by which the retired couple, New Canaan residents for 34 years, now makes a living.
“I call it Connectibles because I’m connecting people with their collectibles,” Maida said.
Prior to their opening of Connectibles, Maida was a marriage counselor and William, called Bill, was a chief information officer at Bristol-Myers. Neither considered themselves collectors, much less auctioneers. But when e-Bay first launched, Maida, in the role of a customer, used the site as a means of tracking down long-lost children’s books. It was at that time she also discovered the site’s potential for sellers.
Their business began in 1999 after an aunt of Bill’s passed away and bequeathed to the Websters a collection of more than 1,000 vintage dolls, bought piecemeal at flea markets, often for less than a dollar, in the 1960s and 1970s.
Dolls remain a big seller on Connectibles. Still, the focus of the business began to shift after the New Canaan couple formed a friendship with Weston resident Lucie Arnaz, who had inherited the estate of her late mother and father, actress Lucille Ball and her “I Love Lucy” co-star Desi Arnaz.
“In 2009 and 2010 she would talk to me about giving me some of the things. But, understandably, she was thinking she should be going with a fancy New York auction house,” Maida said.
But Lucie Arnaz was unsatisfied with the auction house she chose. According to Maida, the auctioneers sold items without identifying them as having belonged to Lucille Ball, and protested posting other items, like Lucy’s fox-fur coats, that they said would no longer have a market.
“We had extraordinary things. Things that had never been unearthed,” Maida said.
The items included a piece of Lucy and Desi’s wedding cake, a heart-shaped costume pin of Lucy’s, a director’s chair, original scripts adorned with Lucy’s hand-written annotations, Desi’s passport, and the pool table from his Palm Springs, Calif., home, where he had hosted pals such as Jimmy Durante and Dean Martin.
“It was the pool table that all those guys would play pool on when they went to visit him, which was frequently,” Bill Webster said.
The Websters were shocked by how well the items sold and by the age range of buyers.
“Young collectors, as well as old collectors,” Maida said. “It was such a bidding war, it was insane. Pretty much everything sold out.”
Though the New Canaan sellers were mostly cleared out after the first sale, more Lucy and Desi memorabilia came into their possession in 2013, when Lucie Arnaz and her husband moved to Palm Springs.
A third batch of items emerged recently, as the Websters took stock of their holdings in anticipation of leaving their longtime home and joining their children and grandchildren in Westport.
This last lot, arranged on the kitchen table before Maida, includes a signed wedding photo, signed bank transfers, a page from the family’s private photo album, a letter to Lucy from the American minister and author Norman Vincent Peale, and an original script from “Here’s Lucy,” Ball’s second eponymous sitcom.
Though the bidding frenzy has long come to an end, offerings such as these continue to find an audience.
Maida estimated that in the past two or three years, one Lucy-related item sells each month. It’s a testament to the affection and esteem in which Lucy continues to be held that, even now, the value of items belonging to the superstar couple has not diminished.
“We had a friend who was, sadly, in the foster system. She said she moved from foster home to foster home in the 1950s and ’60s and the only constant in her life was every day after school she would watch ‘I Love Lucy,’ ” Maida said. “The amount of lives they touched — and the show was only running seven years — it’s insane.”