Spin a Tale


I knew the start time on Tuesday nights but I still arrived at the auction just as the preview hour was ending. I had just enough time to inspect my sister’s jugs. The pottery ones she wanted me to bid on, that is. I hadn’t even looked at the pictures on-line to know what pottery or other general merchandise was to be put on the block.

The jugs were near the entrance, and they looked to be in good condition. I decided to walk along the perimeter of the room and try to get a bird’s eye view of as much as I could and then find a seat. As I approached the cashier’s table, the auctioneer picked up his speaker headset. He didn’t say anything to me but the cashier acknowledged my arrival by handing me a paddle and logging my name and number.

I don’t know if it’s because I’m starting to become a regular, or because he likes to pick on the rookie dealers, but as I strolled along the stage, to see what prints were available for bid, the auctioneer called me out like I was his first act. “Preview is now over. Stop looking at the goods ; I’m talking to those of you that just arrived. I know who you are, so you’re not fooling anyone, find somewhere to sit – or stand in the back.” A year ago I would have been intimidated. Today when I realized he was calling me out, I just smiled respectfully knowing he was setting the tone for the night.

I knew where I was going to sit. My brother-in-law, Mark, had since motioned that he’d saved me a seat. Since spotting him, I’d decided to intentionally take the long way around. It was only a general sale and maybe even just a haberdashery of dealer leftovers on consignment. That was okay though, there was always something to learn , even if you didn’t make a bid. With a paddle and no preview, I was willing to admit that time in my metal chair was going to include either an antique lesson, a long dull rest or an impulse bid.

The auctioneer always clears the cashier’s table of smaller goods and jewelry first. Evidently, I was already bored when my predicted impulse bid bought me an original Twister game from 1966. It was a no contest, bottom feeder bid of $5. Despite being as vintage as me, it certainly wasn’t going to prove to be a good investment.

Others seemed to believe the jugs would be a valuable asset. When it went on the block, there were several bids besides the ones I was making for my sister. I stopped her bidding at $60 and they sold for $90. After that table of goods, JP, that’s what I call the auctioneer, made his way down that remaining side of the room rather quickly. According to the clock anyway. Items of less interest, value and quality continued to allow me to rest in what became a state of unrest. When JP got to the furniture, I was surprised nobody bid on the vintage runner sled. Knowing I’d made significant profit on two last winter, I decided to spend some more of my money with my second $5 bid. I don’t mind being the only bidder of an item that other dealers have passed on – if I know I can make a profit.

After the furniture was sold, Mark – and his brothers and I – were now on the side closest to the remaining merchandise. It still didn’t look like much even with this bird’s eye view. However, that didn’t keep this bird from wanting to bring something else back to her nest. Seeing a box from afar, I asked our crew if it was oak and in good condition close up. They said it was some type of wooden box but it was wrapped in leather and they weren’t able to open it during preview. Being a sucker for not just toys and books, but also chairs and boxes from time-to-time, I requested it go to the block once the auctioneer had deemed it unworthy. That’s always the point he asks the crowd, “Anything else on this table?” Hearing no other bids, I got my box at this Yankee community auction for another $5. The guys kind of teased me when my jammed tight box was delivered to our row. I giggled that it was “just fine”, “only $5” and like “buying an adult grab bag”.

How much more unprofessional could I be?! While this was just a hobby for me, auctions were a way of life for many of the people in this room. It was even how a few of the widower ladies supplemented their husband’s social security check. Well, unprofessional I’d been and unprofessional I’d prove to be again. After all, a fool and their money are soon parted. Checking out the next table from our seats that were now getting far away again, I spotted something under the table that peeked my interest.

JP was almost done clearing the table when I asked Mike, “Is that a yarn spinner over there?”
Oh my gosh, JP will finish the whole table before I even get affirmation.
“On the floor, under the table.”
“Oh, I think so, why?”
“There’s a weaving class near our booth at the shop; they’ll buy anything that has to do with the whole shearing process.”

I explained all this as another dealer requested an item from the table. I hadn’t heard him but I saw JP reach for my yarn spinner and offer it out to the crowd with an opening $5 bid. Noooooo! My paddle went up for a quick and final counterbid of $7.50. Knowing I had a turn-of-the-century, sheep shearing, yarn spinning, weaving and looming customer base, I had to have it for resale. My merchandise was on its way to our row. As the runner approached and handed it to me, I realized my brother-in-law had been trying to tell me it’s not a yarn spinner and Mike was now trying to give me five dollars for leading me astray.

My comprehension and its reception just wasn’t coming through – despite the porter handing me my new vintage antennae. At least that’s what they explained it was to me. I slowly realized the fiber arts I’d seen from afar were actually the start of fiber optics in the 50’s.
As my visions of profit turned into reality, I told Mike to put his money away and tried not to look surprised. That’s also when I tried to convince myself that I could still sell this. I could sell anything. Also, this evening of bidding could be used as a dealer decoy. Seeing me buy this, the other dealers would never know exactly what my antique knowledge base was. While my bidding was unprofessional, I had to make damn sure to spin it as professional.

After that last classic bid, I admitted to myself that I was not just embarrassed but tired as well. I also realized that despite getting to sit next to my Mike crush – and talk to him – that hadn’t turned out like I’d expected either. Feeling like a Grinch, I loaded my winning bids onto my sled and prepared to leave this Whoville. I quickly decided to settle up, since nobody was yet waiting for the cashier. I didn’t want to be standing in a line with all the dealer’s asking, “How’d you do tonight?”

After all, what would I say? “I have all I need now to make a vintage soap box derby sled, upholstered with Twister material, a jammed leather glove compartment and a transmitter to die for until I can buy an actual radio next week!”

I couldn’t.

That would not be professional.

That’s also why I’ll never miss preview hour again.