Pesky auctioneers who put on a show
I didn’t go to auctioneer school, but I’m beginning to wonder if there’s a class with the title “Hyperbole, Or How to Over-Exaggerate at Auction.”
I was at an auction this week where the auctioneer deemed practically every piece of dusty, rusty and aged item as being straight from the 1890s. Maybe some of it was antique and ancient, but everything? Come on. Do we look that gullible?
It doesn’t just happen at this auction house, which I hadn’t visited in a year. Auctioneers at other places seem to engage in the same histrionics, and they can seem so convincing to the novice. Sure, they’ve been doing this for 25 years or more and they can instantly recognize a piece and determine its origin and value. But they can’t be that knowledgeable about everything.
At one of my favorite auction houses, one of the auctioneers is a bit more honest, using such phrases as “it looks like …” or “it could be …” or “I’m not sure, but … .” At least, you know that you may not be getting an actual rare piece.
At this recent auction, though, there was none of that. This auctioneer was emphatic: No uncertainty, no doubt. He also nagged and badgered the 25 or more people in the tight crowded room, trying to make us feel guilty for letting such rare antique pieces just slip through our fingers.
After a while, the badgering got old and I was ready to choke him to shut him up. But like the others, I sat there and ignored him. After a while his antics turned comical, and he became a caricature. We could almost mimic his words before they came out of his mouth.
At one point he was selling old rust-hardened farm tools, which I admit would work well in the right home. And practically each of them came with a story.
That 100-year-old tool chest? “Made by hand.” It went for $15.
A forged iron grappler with three curved hooks? The farmer used it to pull buckets out of his well when the rope broke.
Any forged iron item he held up? From the 1890s.
That container of jewelry? Included was a charm bracelet of Disney characters in its original packaging. “It’s a $25 bill waiting to happen.” The box sold with another container of jewelry for $27.50.
A box of jewelry with a half-dozen or more cameos and a “hand-painted necklace,” each of which he pulled out and showed us individually? “Got to have $100 worth of stuff in there. All from the same house.”
A Lusterware teapot, sugar bowl and creamer? “It’s a $50 set.” It sold for $10.
The dusty electric floor sander from the 1930s? “How cool is that? It’s guaranteed to work or you don’t have to buy it.” One of the great things about this auction house – that you may not find at others – is that you can return any item that does not work.
Those eight augers? “Check these babies out. Some are signed by the blacksmiths who made them. They date back 200 years.” Seconds later, when no bidder was biting: “They’re 100 years old. They make great decorations on the wall. They should be $15 and up.” They sold for $3 each.
Two local high school pennants? They went for less than $10. “It’s an outrage,” another auctioneer said jokingly.
Willow dinner plates? “All 100 years old.” He could have possibly been correct on these.
“Folks, you’re missing the boat.”
A small Drexel bedside table with one drawer? “Rare.”
An assistant pushed a silver-gray baby carriage to the front of the room. “That’s been here before,” my auction buddy Janet whispered to me. It was one of those carriages with the hood pulled halfway over the top, and it was big. A mother would have to be in pretty good shape to push it and she’d need to cushion it thickly to protect her baby’s soft skin. It would be called classic now. I found on the web a “new” classic type selling for $650 and an antique original selling for $375.
“It cost $500 when it was first bought,” the auctioneer said. I don’t recall him saying when it was first bought, but it looked to be in pretty good shape. Parents these days push their babies and toddlers in lightweight strollers that are easy on them and their children.
The auctioneer put on a free show that was as entertaining (if not a little tiresome) as one we’d pay for. He had the personality and the grit; he was cajoler, badgerer, comic, pest. And most important, he had a love for this stuff – at one point, he was about to sell some old bottles when he saw that one looked to be from his own collection. He blamed his wife for trying to get rid of it.