Going once, going twice…the allure of auctions

Score! Total cost $110.

Just went to my first small-town auction in ages. Score! The photo above shows my loot: a folk art horse, two Victorian transferware platters, an early Oriental rug, an early mixing bowl and a handmade wooden box.

Did I need them?


How could I resist?

I saw in the front row with my Dad, (who scored a pile of picture frames, a lovely wooden side table and a double bed — a great wooden bed-frame for $20.) There was a serious bidding war over a set of china — that went for $2,100 — but many items went for crazy-low prices, like a gorgeous Victorian wicker rocker for $5.

You can’t buy an hour of street parking where I live for$5!

The lady behind me was thrilled to nab a Victorian platter in her great grandmother’s pattern for $20. A dealer came with her 13-year-old parrot, Winston and he hopped happily onto my hand. The woman beside us beat us out for a pair of Victorian silver plate candlesticks for her daughter’s wedding gift.

I’ve scored many of my favorite things at auctions, whether in Bath, England, Toronto, Stockholm, New Hampshire or rural Nova Scotia.

In Bath, in the 1980s when my mom lived there, I got a lovely little hand-painted pottery jug, (which perfectly fit a Melitta filter holder and became my default coffeepot), for $18. In Toronto, a gorgeous brass bed. In Stockholm, a huge black metal tray with elegantly curved edges and in New Hampshire, all sorts of things, from a senneh kilim for $50 to drawings, etchings and funky objects like early wooden candleboxes or tool trays.

I still own, use and love three painted, rush-seated chairs I bought at a Nova Scotia rural auction (and shipped home to Toronto by train.) Their original paint is alligatored, their rails and stiles weathered and worn.

My most recent major auction acquisition is a lovely teal-tinted armoire, said to be 18th. century, which — including shipping from New Hampshire to my home in New York — still cost less than junk-made-in-China-on-sale from a mass market retailer. I bid on it by phone, having only seen a small-ish color photo on their website. Talk about a blind date!

It arrived with a few unexpected scratches and cracks, but I love it.

At yesterday’s auction I saw its twin, and a lady standing beside me said, “I have one just like it. It’s really old.” So maybe mine is 18th century after all…

When I lived for a while in a small town in New Hampshire I had no friends, family, job or other distractions so for amusement I began attending a local regional auction house every Friday. I learned a lot:

what’s a marriage (two pieces of different origin, materials and/or period that have been recombined)

what local dealers wanted (early American furniture) and did not (rugs and drawings)

how to make super-quick decisions

how to trust my gut (after doing my research on periods, materials and construction)

how to decide on my top price and stick to it (buyers usually pay an additional 15 percent premium, easy to forget if you get into a bidding war)

Have you ever bought at auction?

Snag anything great?

13 thoughts on “Going once, going twice…the allure of auctions

  1. Even better… I live near an auction house that DISCARDS everything that doesn’t sell. I’ve gotten some unbelievable things for free! I go every week. Never have been to the actual auction. I’ve gotten antiques and a ton of household furnishings (rugs, curtains, bedding, etc.) as well as great books and other collectibles. It’s completely soured me on garage sales. I think most of their auctions are garage and estate sale leftovers.

  2. Don

    I haven’t bought at an auction, but there’s a TV series I never miss here where we are. It’s called “Cash in the Attic.” Little treasures are found stuck away in homes and are sold on auction. Amazing what people have in their homes and just don’t know how valuable the stuff is.

    1. There is a TV show here in Canada/US that’s super-popular called Antiques Roadshow, which is likely similar. People line up when the experts come to their town to find out if their treasure really does have some value.

  3. I love auctions! There’s a small town near where we live with a charming name that has an auction house. Lostwithiel is just one of many hot spots for finding deals and I’ve managed to get a few things I love without paying much for them. The best things are the surprises that come in a box of things when you’ve only had your eye on one item in the box. I usually make one bad impulse purchase at most auctions, a habit I’m trying to break.

    I have a favorite item that I really love. It’s referred to as biscuit barrel here in the UK, but it’s really a beautifully painted delicate cookie jar.

    Thanks for sharing your new/old treasures with us.

    1. Those odd lots can be amazing. The auction yesterday had a number of those. The one thing I am always on the hunt for (and they had none) is vintage fabrics and linens.

      I head to Vermont in two days, where the antiquing is excellent…:-)

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