Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Bitten By The Auction Bug!

As there’s an auctioneer featured in this Deadly Notions mystery series, and seeing as I hadn’t gone to an auction in over a decade, I decided to attend some in the name of book research.

I found a site called, where you can put in your zip code and the radius you’re prepared to travel, and up pop all the local auctions on a handy calendar. The ones I attended varied widely. One was a real country affair, with open air stalls and an auctioneer wearing a top hat who was so fond of telling stories, he incurred the wrath of my fellow attendees, who were all chomping at the bit to buy. “Now, folks, this is history, this is interesting stuff,” he insisted. “Tell him we don’t care,” snapped the old man next to me. “He’ll never make it. He don’t start on time.”

Tough crowd. But it’s true that the auctioneer has a lot of merchandise to sell, and he needs to keep things moving.

The next was in a large, professional building, where there were actually three auctions going on at once. One in the main space for the jewelry, artwork, china and collectibles, one in the corner where the box lots were stacked, and another in the back room for furniture.

Most auctions provide time for a pre-sale walk through, either the day before or an hour or two prior, where you can make notes on items you’d like to bid on and, if you’re smart, set a dollar limit in your mind. Also, most be aware that most items are sold “as-is”, with no refunds or exchanges.

The Art Deco lamp I’d so admired in the walk through sold for well over three hundred dollars. Champagne taste and beer pocket, as my mother likes to say. So I gravitated towards the box lots, which started at a dollar bid, and were much more my speed. Box lots are typically miscellaneous items that are too small to be sold individually, so they’re lumped together, often in an actual cardboard box. Things like kitchen utensils, Christmas decorations, dolls, toys, linens, tools, dishes, sewing supplies, doorknobs, you name it.

My pulse raced as I spotted two boxes crammed full of books. Books on antiques and collectibles, on vintage evening bags, on butter molds and antique clocks. Books I could buy in the name of research!

The box lot crowd is a bit more rough and ready than the genteel bidders in the main room. It’s a crush of people, or as many as will fit in the narrow aisles between the metal shelving, (similar to the kind you’d find in someone’s basement), with the poor auctioneer squished somewhere in the middle.

I waved my bidder number with shaking fingers and immediately was outbid by a woman behind me. I gritted my teeth and bid again. The bidding was for “so much a piece”. I bid five dollars, thinking I was buying two boxes for five dollars. Turns out it was five dollars per box, so with the buyer’s premium of 15% (something else to keep in mind) it was a total of $11.50. Still, a great deal for two big boxes of hardcover books.

When’s the next auction? Think I need to do some more research …