Friday, April 21, 2006

Auctions - Never believe everything you read

The other day I went to an auction. Hadn't been to one in months, and it sounded good - on-site at a farm out in the country, long listing of antiques including many country items (and I do love country), and it was on a Monday, which often means that there wouldn't be a crowd. The auctioneer was well-known in the area, having been in the family auction business for several decades. It all sounded great, so I threw my jacket and camera in the van and headed out for a fun work day.

Should have looked more closely at the ad. Maybe then I would have noticed the warning signs.

First Warning Sign: the directions to the auction site were quite vague. It gave a specific address, but unless you lived in that neighborhood, you wouldn't know how to find it. No road directions were given on how to get there - instead, there was just a note that it was south of a certain very small town. Okay - well, with effort and logic, I can usually find just about any place, so I continued on, searching for this wonderful farm auction.

After nearly two hours of driving across bumpy back roads with lots of country potholes, I finally stumbled across this middle-of-nowhere farm. Even though I'd left with plenty of extra time to find this place, I still was late and arrived just as the auction was starting. Quickly, I signed up for a bid number, champing at the bit to get into some really interesting good-quality buying.

Warning Sign #2: A Monday auction isn't always a sure bet. There was a large crowd (Monday!!!??!), yet I only recognized one other dealer there. Since we dealers are known to be crazy enough to travel great distances for a good country auction, this was a bad sign. There should have been at least a half dozen or more dealers, all eyeing each other and vying for the best stuff.

Then I remembered that I'd seen quite a few openings in the parking field. Apparently, there had been dealers there, but after viewing the auction, had decided to leave.

Instead, most of the attendees appeared to be local farmers and neighbors. They were scattered in small groups, chatting up a storm, and not paying much attention to the auctioneer. This had turned into more of a post-Winter social event than an auction, and the locals were just blowing off a beautiful Spring day and catching up with the neighborhood gossip.

Warning Sign #3: Too little detail in the auction listing. It sounded good initially, but later, when I re-read it, I realized there just wasn't very much detail.

Before I bid on anything, I always scan the merchandise first to see what catches my eye or could be a sleeper - there's no point in bidding on something I haven't personally inspected. But after the first 10 minutes of wandering through this farm auction, I knew I'd not be buying much.

What had been described in the auction ad as "lots of antiques, farm implements, furniture" etc., etc., etc., missed one very important point - it didn't mention that this auction was the left-overs from a long-defunct antiques business. The merchandise (geez, I just hate to call it that, since most of it really belonged at the local dump) was in very poor condition - furniture had been left in an old, rickety barn, pretty much exposed to the elemenets. All of it needed much repair (and how many single chairs can one have?? there were nearly 75 old, unmatched, shaky, finish-gone chairs!), also glass and china mostly with chips and cracks, plus stoneware which might have been nifty to buy if it didn't have major hairlines and heavy stains. Much of the offerings were yard sale remains, the kind of stuff you see over and over again at many "antiques malls." The auctioneer was having a tough time getting bids, since much of the table-top "antiques" were of low quality and had damage. Even the locals weren't interested.

I headed for the farm implements, determined to find something to buy. Often I can find something that was used in farming but now would be spectacular in a new life as a fabulous architectural ornament. This was a pretty big farm. Surely I would find some cool wall farm art, right? Not so. At least, not unless I wanted to buy entire cultivators, drags or any of the other major farm implements, all full-sized and old, but needing major disassembly for them to work architecturally. Since none of them would fit in my van, Plan B wasn't going to work either.

Even worse, I noticed that at the end of a long line of beat-up, non-working 1950s tractors was a large thirty-year-old box van, also non-running and very rusted, with the lettering on the side: Empty Pockets Antiques. That certainly explained everything.

After spending an hour wandering this farm, I had to give in. There just wasn't anything of acceptable quality that I could buy and make a few dollars on. All the furniture needed more work than would justify a reasonable retail price. The small "antiques" - mostly from the mid-20th century - were damaged and unsaleable. The potential farm architectural items were old (good), rusted beyond disassembly (bad), and way too big for me to manage.

So I did what any other self-respecting antiques dealer would do - I stopped at the concession trailer for a nice, big, calorie and fat-overloaded Polish dog. Which, I should add, was a terrific surprise - it was quite lean and tasty, and was the concessionaire's Spring Special - an extra-large locally-made Polish sausage, smothered with chopped fresh spinach and home-made sweet red onion relish. All for $2.50 - and I loved it! This was the best this auction had to offer, and for me was the beginning of Plan C.

If one is handed an armful of lemons, the obvious answer is to make lemonade. So, Plan C was now in effect. Starting with a pretty decently full tummy of my unusual fresh spinach/sweet onion relish-covered Polish dog, I was now ready to enjoy the rest of the day by leaving this god-forsaken auction and doing something else.

Hopping into the van, I let it lead wherever the road went. I had no idea where I was going, other than somewhere easterly. I just wandered backroads, heading in the general direction of home. Since it was Monday, the chances were slim of finding any antiques shops to hunt; most shops around our part of the state are closed on Monday. But for nearly 2 hours I slowly rambled rural roads through three counties, enjoying the trees and flowers in blossom, the rolling hills, the open green pastures with cattle, goats and horses, and beautiful zig-zaggy streams. Took my time, soaked it all in, received lots of good mental health.

I ignored the fact that I'd just driven 175 miles, spent nearly $45 in gas, and wasted a pointless morning at an auction full of junk which really belonged at the county refuse station. Instead of sitting on the pity-pot feeling sorry for myself over a morning squandered, I "made lemonade", and refreshed myself with timeless nature. I didn't have to be anywhere at any specific time, and spending a few hours of being lost sure gave me a much better attitude throughout the rest of the day!

In fact, I came home earlier than I had planned - after all, I usually spend an entire day at an auction - and managed a few hours playing in my yard, too. Picked up a cart-full of winter's dead branches, decided which perennials needed to be transplanted and which were slated as a gift for a friend's garden, and cavorted with my cats in the warm Spring sun.

And then, I went inside and made some REAL lemonade, the first of the season, reminding myself to read between the lines in the next auction ad, but if it doesn't quite turn out the way I'd planned, there was always Plan C!

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