Thirty-five dollar bid, now who will give me forty dollar?Will you give me forty dollar, make it forty dollar?Oh who will give me a forty dollar bi-id?Got a forty dollar bid, now who will give me forty-five?Will you give me forty-five, make it forty-five?Oh who will give me a forty-five dollar bi-id
The call of the auctioneer. Everyone knows about the patter, even those who have never partaken of the auction experience.
Far from its roots back in Babylon circa 500 B.C. when going to an auction meant one would come home with a wife, today's auction is a sort of free-for-all. An auctioneer can sell almost anything - from a $38 million Andy Warhol portrait, to a dollar's worth of bottle caps, and everything in between.
The word is derived from the Latin word auge?. Among its meanings is "I increase." And that's what an auctioneer does - encourages bidders to increase the amount they are willing to pay for whatever it is that has piqued their need for acquisition.
Until recently, I'd never attended an auction. Being prairie-bred and raised, it's hard to imagine. Perhaps it's just as well; I can see it becoming an addiction. When the auctioneer points at you and calls "Sold!" – well – it's rather thrilling moment.
One of my talented and artistic co-workers is responsible for initiating me into the subculture of the auction-goer. Sabrina recently bought her first home, and has been furnishing her new abode almost solely by frequenting auctions. Gleefully sharing photos of the spoils of her bidding battles, she unwittingly got me thinking, "I really need to get in on this auction action."
So, we had a look online recently for upcoming auctions suitable for a beginner, with her tutelage, to cut her teeth on. We were rewarded to find what was, for us, the perfect auction opportunity. It seemed an especially enticing sale, featuring antiques, collectables, art and art supplies from Saskatchewan artist Glen Scrimshaw's now-closed Duck Lake studio, plus commissions from various other contributors. There was everything from kitschy knick-knacks, antique prayer chairs and used commodes to gardening supplies, appliances and tools. Most importantly, there was furniture galore.
Among the photos on the online sale bill there was a round oak table that reminded me very much of the well-loved kitchen table from our family farm that now resides in my sister's condo. In the photo, the item up for auction looked a little bit beaten up, and the photo didn't show the base, but I couldn't resist the notion that it was calling out to me. (Never mind that I am already in loving possession of a circa 1926 quarter-sawn oak Queen Anne style table that was a wedding present to my grandparents from all four of my paternal great-grandparents.)
The notion that I needed that round table got a bit obsessive, I have to admit. I phoned Ivan White, whose auction house it was commissioned to, and asked if the items could be viewed before the auction. He, of course, was very obliging. Sabrina and I dropped by and toured through the collection of goods for sale, with Ivan pointing out items of interest that weren't among the online photos. "My" table, of course, was there, and one glance told me I had to have it.
So, my co-worker and I made a date to meet up there on auction day. She was planning to go in the morning (it started at 9 a.m.), but I had an event to cover and wouldn't get there until the afternoon. That's okay, she told me, because the furniture wasn't scheduled to go on sale until 1:30 p.m. anyway. If I was late, she would bid on "my" table, according to the limit I had set (I sorely coveted it, but not at any cost).
Sunday arrived, and I was on tenterhooks until I finally made it to the auction house. Once there, my anxiety lessened only in that it had not yet come under the hammer. There was still the bidding process itself, a new experience for me. First I had to register. I gave my name, address and phone number and was presented with my own personal auction number - a first.
The sale was spread out over two rooms and a foyer. There were two auctioneers working simultaneously. But my accomplice had it all under control; she had friends who were keeping an eye on the things were found most interesting so we didn't miss a chance to bid, and, in particular, there were a few eyes watching out for "my" table, which was located in the foyer between the two main rooms.
As we waited for our turn to bid, we checked out the rest of the items for sale, and the bidders, entering into the rather fascinating subculture particular to the auction hall. Pointing out one avid bidder, my tutor shared her observation that she was buying up lots of small items - and not for cheap, either. We found out later she was a used goods dealer. I saw a few faces I knew, and it was fun to see what they were interested in.
It was very unlike the stereotypical auctions portrayed on the average television sitcom. Ivan was not about to make someone buy something because they scratched their nose and the atmosphere was more friendly than formal. There were people of all ages (in some cases, whole families) spread throughout the venue, buying yummy hamburgers from Cando Catering, inspecting the goods for sale, visiting with friends, even changing diapers. Some were standing, some were sitting in the chairs provided, some were oblivious to the bidding going on, others were oblivious to anything but.
To the observer in me that keeps me in the news business, it was a source of great interest.
But, back to the object of the day.
Word soon passed through the crowd that the items in the foyer were about to go on sale. It was showtime!
I took a deep breath and headed toward the object of my desire. Of course, when I got to the foyer, I tried to pretend I wasn't interested in it. It gave it one quick glance, to make sure it was still there, then ignored it while Ivan auctioned off a variety of lots including cross country skis, gardening supplies, an antique sewing machine and a batch of plastic storage bins.
Then it was time for my table. I tried to look nonchalant. Sabrina had said wait until somebody else made a bid, and I steeled myself to take her advice. Ivan started the bidding at a price I would have been quite willing to pay, but I waited. The price kept coming down, as near as I could tell from the patter, until finally someone made a bid. I can't remember now if it was me, or the one other person who was interested in my modest little oak table. It's now all a blur. All I know is that I came out the winner, only having to bid up once from where i jumped in. I was jubilant to pay only $45 for an antique table!
I floated happily back to the main hall, where Sabrina had been watching out for a couple of art deco vases we liked to come up, and shared my good news.
I could have called it a day, but I still the difference between what I paid for my table and the amount I had been willing to bid up to. And there were still more antiques to come under the hammer.
Unfortunately for me, other bidders had allowed themselves higher limits. I bid on a few items, but I just couldn't keep up. Oh well, I had already got what I came for.
Eventually, Sabrina headed home, but I stuck around nearly until the end of the day, mostly to see what price things would sell for, giving myself a bit of a heads up for future auctions. Toward the end, I bought myself a reading chair for $10. And that, I decided, was my finale for the day,
I made arrangements to pick up my purchases in a few days when I could borrow a truck, and headed home to share my tale with my family.
My new old table now fits perfectly into our home, and I hope to find it some more auction buddies in the near future.
Hmmm… maybe a nice antique sideboard…