Wednesday, March 9, 2011

One Man's Trash...

It was a pretty innocuous looking box. There was a set of fairly new silver-plate cream and sugar and one older, well-tarnish creamer. A blue crackle-glass vase, a broken toy boat of some kind, an old metal letter holder and a few other odd items were also lying on top of each other in the box. What had caught my eye in the first place was a bisque figurine of a boy. It wasn’t really the type of piece that I collect, but it seems like I can’t keep them in my case at the Tacoma Antique Center where I take my antiques to sell. I put a “maximum bid” number in my auction catalog and kept moving around the room previewing the rest of the lots that were for sale.

The auction was on a Wednesday and the house wasn’t nearly as packed as it was the night before. On Tuesday’s, this auction house puts their “higher end” items up for auction and that draws a lot attendees…some that actually bid, some that I think just enjoy the activity of an auction. Wednesday night is more of a “box lot” and “primitives” night. As a result, the auctioneer goes at a pretty fast pace. Even the on-line bidders have to be quick with their bids or the hammer has already fallen and he is on the next lot.

I had about 15 or 20 lots highlighted in my catalog for the auction and sat in my regular seat with my bidder’s card ready. I won a number items that came up, and lost a few. That’s what you have to expect at an auction. Even though you would like to, you can’t win them all…unless you have boatloads of money to spend and you’re not buying to resell.

The auctioneer called out “lot 1105” as the next item on the block. It was the box with the figurine so I got my card ready. The assistant pulled out a couple of the items in the box to show the audience. As always, Joe (the auctioneer) made comments about some of the pieces and how “with a little work” some of them might be really valuable. The auctioneer asked for an opening bid of $500, then $100, $50…all the way down to $5 before I raised my bidder’s card. Other’s countered with $10…then $15. I sat there briefly, then raised mine for a $20 bid. “Any more bids”, he asked? “Sold!”, and he was off to the next lot.

For the next hour and half, the auctioneer sold lot after lot of items that someone had accumulated for years. At the end of the night, I’d made nine purchases and I settled my account and got my items boxed up to take home. Over the weekend, I went through the items that I’d purchased, deciding which would go into my space at the antique mall and which I would try to sell on ebay. I got box lot 1105 and started to pull the items out. When I lifted out the figurine, my heart sank because there was a small chip his hand. It looked fresh. It could have happened after I’d previewed the box or I might have missed it. Nevertheless, the “one item” that I’d wanted the box for wasn’t going into my case at the mall.

I pulled the other pieces out of the box and realized they were all “ebay” items so I got them ready to photograph. The crackle-glass vase and a small “peapod” spreader were in really good shape so I took a half dozen pictures of each of them and set them aside. I picked up the toy boat and took a closer look at the axel underneath that was broken. It was a clean break so I got out some glue to try to repair it and while the glue was setting, pulled out the metal letter holder. It was definitely an older piece so I cleaned it up and took photos of it as well.

I picked up the toy boat to check the axel and it glued solid. I gently rolled it across my table top and the heads of the two musicians in the boat raised up and down and the hand of the guitar player moved to “strum” the guitar. The other musician’s arm raised up and down but his hand was broken off and the drum was missing. I figured I could put it on ebay for a few dollars and make a little something back on the $20 I’d spent on all of the items since the figurine wasn’t worth selling.

The following day I went to my office after work to start listing the items. As I always do, I went on-line to try to find something out about the piece so I can give a good description to the potential buyers. I typed “antique toy boat” into the Bing search window and a number of entries popped up. I was directed to a site referring to the type of toy as a “Kobe” toy from Japan. A few more searches caused me to stop for a moment. Some of these toy (even in poor condition) had sold for hundreds of dollars. There was one listed on ebay that day at a “Buy it Now” price of $1000. I searched previous sales and decided to post a starting price of $99.95 (which was about $95 higher than I was thinking on Saturday when I pulled the toy out of the box.)

I’m relatively new at selling items on Ebay, but the next seven days were fun. More than 40 people checked out the toy on the auction site and 15 had tagged it on their “watch” list. Within the first twenty-four hours, someone had bid $200 for it. When the auction ended a week later, my $4 investment had turned into a $325 return. The antique letter holder also sold that day and those two items more than paid for everything that I had purchased at the auction the week before.

That…is the thrill of the auction and the satisfaction of dealing in antiques. You never know exactly what something is going to be worth. Personally, I never would have purchased either of those pieces for myself. But for someone else, they were the treasures they were looking for.

1 comment:

Deb Shucka said...

Okay, that boat is even uglier than I thought! Yikes!

I love the story you've woven here. This is a great picture of what your life is like as an antique dealer and your joy in that role shines through in every word.

Great title, too.

This makes me think about people - how sometimes the ugliest, most broken, least appealing of us can be a great treasure if someone is only willing to look.

I love that I get to share this world with you - it's one of my greatest joys, too.