The monotony of real state sales at the Liberty-street Exchange was broken yesterday by an offering of five claims on behalf of a man with whom fortune coquetted until she tired of him and then left him to a world that has been indeed merciless. Nearly every one who was in speculation 10 years ago knew about James E. Kelley. For 40 years he had butted his luck and ingenuity against all kinds of risks. Sometimes he was rich and at times he had to borrow to meet his losses, but whether his tide was high or low his happy, buoyant disposition never changed. He seemed to have hope enough to see a bright future beyond any reverse, however serious. In 1872 he made a calculation of his fortune and found himself worth easily above all liabilities $500,000.
Kelley had started life as a circus manager. He was interested with Barnum and other noted managers at one time of another, and did a good deal in that life on his own account. Making money, he put other irons in the fire. Anything that promised a profit caught his fancy. About 1875 he found himself cramped for money. His investments were not doing well, and in efforts to better himself he plunged deeper in debt. Then his creditors began to push him. He kept his head bravely above water until 1877, when a creditor swooped down upon a circus company in which Mr. Kelley had a major interest and which was then traveling in Georgia, and sold it out to satisfy a chattel mortgage. The outfit for the circus had cost about $200,000. It realized $10,000 or $11,000. This blow crushed him and he went into bankruptcy. For several years past he has importuned his Assignee, William Forse Scott, to try to collect some of the money due him. In many cases claims were outlawed. In others, Mr. Scott discovered that they were faulty. At last he decided to offer some of his claims at auction. Four of these where either outlawed or worthless. The other was 40 shares of Keely Motor stock.
Less than score of people gathered at the auction stand of Leviness & Brown when the claims were offered yesterday. There was no bid on the first claim. The first and second were offered together, but failed also to provoke a bid, as did the first three together. When the first four were put up, including the 40 shares of Keely Motor, there was a reluctant bid of $5 for the four. No one raised the bid, and the claims were knocked down. Then the bidder refused to take them, and William A. Albert, a lawyer, of 71 Broadway, assumed the delinquent's place and offer. Mr. Albert bought the last claim for $25. The five claims, which once represented to Mr. Kelley quite $40,000, had gone for the pitiful sum of $30 - not enough to pay the costs of the sale. (The New York Times) 11/15/1887