Daniel Buck of Sabattus stands with boxing memorabilia once displayed at Graziano’s Casa Mia restaurant in Lisbon. Among the items are two pair of boxing gloves used in a 1948 exhibition match between Joe Louis and Willie James in Lewiston, the ring card from the Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston match in Lewiston and photographs of famous boxers, including John L. Sullivan from the late 1800s.

Daniel Buck sits at his desk beneath an antique oil painting valued at $85,000 and takes a phone call from someone wanting to know the secret ingredients in Joe Graziano’s salad dressing.

So, you ask, what does salad dressing have to do with art?

Buck happens to be one of the top art and antiques appraisers and brokers in the region and he’s also handling the sale of some 400 photographs, paintings and other items that for years decorated the walls of the venerable Graziano’s Casa Mia Restaurant in Lisbon.

Joe Graziano passed away in 2000, and when his children – who had taken over the running of the restaurant – decided to close the establishment earlier this year, they were faced with the daunting task of finding new homes for the large assortment of treasures their patriarch had amassed over his lifetime.

The artifacts included sundry paintings of idyllic Mediterranean landscapes and quaint village scenes and even an antique wooden wine press. But as anyone who ever dined in the restaurant knows, the vast majority of the collection had nothing to do with Italy or fine cuisine.

In fact, the choicest piece in Joe Graziano’s collection – most of which is now being offered for sale to the public – is a set of vintage boxing gloves, valued at $2,500. For, while Joe was enthusiastic about his work in the kitchen, his true passion lay in the boxing ring. Though he sparred only briefly as a teen in Uncle Tony’s gym in New York, Joe became well known as one of Maine’s most avid fans of the sport, serving for some time on the state’s boxing commission.

The gloves referenced above achieved their stature from their starring role in a exhibition match between famed boxer Joe Louis and his opponent Willie James of Boston, held at the Lewiston Armory on Dec. 20, 1948.

Another choice item in the Graziano collection is the Round 1 card purported to have been used for the infamous championship fight between Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) and Sonny Liston held in May of 1965 at the Central Maine Youth Center, as Lewiston’s civic hockey arena was then known. Clay won by knockout in the first round as a result of what came to be called the “phantom punch.”

While other pieces in the Graziano assemblage also have national notoriety – such as autographed photos of Floyd Patterson, Joe Frazier and Sugar Ray Leonard – most reflect Lewiston’s own rich boxing heritage.

Long prominent on the walls of the Casa Mia restaurant were several photos of noted local boxer Paul Junior (Labbe) and his brothers Dom Labbe, Baby Jack Renault (Labbe) and K.O. Labbe. A Franco-American who was born in 1907 in St-Frederic de Beauce, Quebec, Paul garnered multiple lightweight championship titles for both Maine and New England between 1929 and 1940, and in 1937 was named one of the top 10 lightweight contenders nationally by The Ring magazine.

While people understandably associate many of the boxing items in the Graziano collection to the restaurant — where they filled all the wall space in the many-roomed restaurant — a good number of the older pieces were once displayed at Tex’s Ringside Cafe, a colorful (apparently somewhat notoriously so) downtown Lewiston eatery operated in the 1930s by local boxing promoter/matchmaker – and admitted bootlegger – Henri “Tex” Wiseman.

According to a March 4, 1950, Lewiston Evening Journal article reporting Wiseman’s death, “his Lincoln Street place, with red checkered table cloths and garden scenery, was THE place to go in the mid-’30s.”

There, boxing photos filled the walls; one of Graziano’s more interesting pieces includes the image of a tuxedoed man — Wiseman? — in a boxing ring and words advertising Tex’s Ringside Cafe.

‘Antiques Roadshow’ veteran

Fans of public television are likely to recognize Daniel Buck from the the popular PBS television series “Antiques Roadshow,” where, beginning in 1999, he appeared on-air for 11 years as one of the program’s independent appraisers.

Buck has been involved in the sale and appraisal of fine art and antiques for four decades, starting his career at the age of 12 assisting with his family’s antiques business in western Massachusetts, and then auctioneering in 1975 while still in high school.

Since graduating from the International Auction School in Deerfield, Mass., he has worked as an auctioneer and appraiser throughout the United States as well as in Canada.

In 2010 he moved to Maine and conducted business from his home in Lisbon Falls until last September, when he opened an office at 212 Center St., Auburn, inside of the Republic Jewelry building.

Buck is known for his expertise in Shaker furniture and other Americana items principally of the 18th and 19th centuries, as well as 19th- and 20th-century paintings. That said, he does have some prior experience handling sporting memorabilia and, in fact, conducted a charity auction several years ago in support of the establishment of a branch of the Ted Williams Museum in Rhode Island, an event attended by veteran Red Sox pitcher Luis Tiant and other baseball stars.

Despite his day-to-day dealings with more sophisticated and worldly ware, Buck is admittedly fascinated by the assortment of memorabilia collected by Joe Graziano, recognizing, in particular, its significance to local history.

“You’re looking at one of the best sporting collections in New England,” said Buck, who declined to put an overall value on the collection. “I feel privileged to be able to help the Graziano family not only get these images back into the hands of the relatives of the local sports legends pictured in them, but also to offer the collection to long-time Casa Mia patrons and boxing enthusiasts throughout the country.”

In fact, once word got out that items from the Graziano collection were being made available for public purchase, all of the Labbe brothers’ photos were quickly snapped up by members of the extended Labbe family still living in the area.

Buck is inviting anyone interested in the Graziano’s collection of memorabilia to call him at 207-407-1444 or contact him through his website at www.DanielBuckAppraisals.com.

As for the salad dressing recipe? Well, says Buck, Graziano’s family has given him the word that it’s not for sale. At any price.


Daniel Buck of Sabattus looks over boxing memorabilia.

A photo of local boxer Paul Junior (Labbe), which is part of the boxing memorabilia from the Graziano’s collection.

A ringside bell and other boxing memorabilia from the Graziano’s collection.

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