Saturday, January 16, 2010

Auction Action

When we lived in Colorado, we didn't have cable tv, and were at the mercy of whatever the airwaves brought us (which was sometimes pretty interesting, in a weird way, like the news from Cheyenne). But we could get two different PBS stations from Denver, which was a first for me. One way the two stations distinguished themselves from each other was by trying to have different on-air fund-raising strategies. One station played all the Doo-Wop and Suze Orman you could ever want, and the other did even weirder things. The weirdest was probably their auctions.

Sometimes, it would be the traditional "silent auction" with different boards and where bidders would call in and talk to phone bank people and all that. But sometimes they would have real live auctions, too, with a real auctioneer doing the whole traditional sing-song thing (bidders also phoned in, but the selling was real-time). Usually they were auctioning off sports collectibles or furniture at these auctions and just about every time they were on I watched some of it.

I think it drove Rose a little crazy, of course, but as I told her, the sound of a real auctioneer has a kind of soothing effect on me. It's a sound I recall from my childhood, and I think I fell asleep many, many times as a child, listening to the song of the auctioneer. (My folks, for those who don't know it already, long had a second income from being antique dealers and I remember going to innumerable auctions, from truly rustic farm auctions up to more classy affairs).

Anyway, a couple of times over the last
year or so, I've met up with my folks in central Ohio at a particular auction house where they have become regular buyers and (to their surprise) occasional employees. I've bought few small items here and there, and sold a couple of them on (for a profit, I might add) on eBay, but I've also come to see auctions like this one a little differently.

At this auction, for example, there are usually two (and sometimes more) auction rings operating simultaneously: at the right, you see what's left on one auction ring at the end of the day, working it's way towards me down this table of glass and china. Not many bidders: good for buyers, I guess, but not so good for the seller. The empty chairs face the main ring, shown at about the same time in the top photo.

Most real life auctions are like this one, of course, where an estate is being cleared out. And it's fun, still, to go and try to find a bargain, and I suppose it's good to support the local economy. And I still enjoy listening to the auctioneer patter and the jokes. But there's a sad side to auctions, too, I think. One of the things you really realize at an auction is that collections have a life cycle, too, one that is almost always closely tied to the lives of their owners. I'm not sure if that makes me more or less eager to gather my own collections, though I know I'd hate to see them auctioned off.

But maybe there's a way to see that buying something at an auction is not only a kind of recycling, but it's what any collector should want: for the things one collector loved to be bought and loved by another. So, while I hope to go to more auctions, and to find a few things I can sell on--I hope to buy some things that I can keep and love, too.

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