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*Auctions Anonymous

I had a flash of insight while sitting at my last auction. It was after 10 pm, I was alone, it was a Friday night, and I started wondering what in the heck was so fascinating about auctions that I was willing to spend so much time at one when I have so many other things that I should be doing…and all of a sudden, it hit me: bidding at auctions is like gambling. 

First, a quick word about gambling: when my parents came to visit me in Chicago years and years ago, I was looking for something to entertain them with; there are several Riverboat casinos in the Chicago vicinity and, though no one in my family — beside my brother, who will sometimes play blackjack when he gets the opportunity — had ever been to a casino before, I thought it might be fun to give it a try. My Mom and I walked in, put our first quarters in a slot machine,  and it was like a scene out of a cartoon: we had dollar signs instead of eyeballs. If we hadn’t been lucky enough to have Justin and my Dad with us, I’m not sure what might have happened. As it was, I spent all of the cash I had brought with me,  visited the cash machine once, and Justin had to stop me from hitting it a second time after all that money was gone. It was crazy, and three hours later, I was standing out in the parking garage, blinking dazedly against the midday light, wondering what in the hell had come over me. My Mom and I realized that Tunica, Mississippi was around a three-hour car trip from where they lived in Little Rock and we usually would go and spend a night there when I came down to visit them from Chicago.  After that first trip, we managed our money a lot more conservatively — we set a limit for ourselves and wouldn’t overspend that limit — but one time Mom won a ton of money on a slot machine (I want to say nearly $400) and she lost it all in the same machine. I was sitting next to her, telling her to cash out, cash out, cash out, but her glazed expression indicated that nothing was getting through to her. Afterward, she couldn’t believe she had done it. You just lose yourself in the lie that where there is $400, there is probably $400 more, just waiting to come to you, and this next quarter is going to be the one to do it. Whoops, not that quarter, but surely the one after it. Nope, this next one. Until you’re looking at a balance of $3.75.

It’s obvious that I have an addictive personality when it comes to gambling, and auctions play into that personality trait: you don’t know how much money you’ll need to spend, but if you spend enough, you might hit the jackpot. It’s competitive, you sometimes have to bluff (make the person bidding against you think you’ll have no problem bidding this mixing bowl up to $150 so they’d better just drop out now), and if you just commit to spending $2 more, you’ll get that print that you love so much…no? Okay, just $2 more, then…no? Well, what’s another $2? And:  you usually walk out of the joint with the realization that you spent way more than you intended.

I’ve only been to two different auction houses in Northwest Arkansas (Shara’s been to way more and has her favorites…can’t wait to go to an auction with her) but they are both completely different, both in their merchandise and their employees. The clientele mostly overlaps, and a big percentage of the people who go know each other. Friday night I was at Ken’s Auction House, in Springdale, where I went about a month ago to an auction that was held right after the big snow we had. He had a TON of stuff, because he had to cancel two auctions due to the weather, and because it was a Sunday and not technically my day to venture off the reservation I was nervous about staying too long, so I ended up only buying a couple of small mixing bowls (they are beautiful and bargain priced at $5…not many people bid on mixing bowls at Ken’s). I had my eye on several things there that I reluctantly left behind because of my time constraints, but when I showed up on Friday night, everything I had eyeballed the last time was still there! Unlike Larry Williams, auctions at Ken’s don’t go on until all of the merchandise is gone:  as one of his employees told me, he sells until he gets tired, then tells the people who are left to grab what they want off the shelf and bring it up to the table and he auctions those items off and then it’s over. At that point, you have to commit to a $5 opening bid, which, for most stuff, is fine, but you do miss out on that chance to get things for $1 or $2, which is sometimes a possibility. Friday night started out PACKED — I stood in the back for about an hour before climbing over some people to get to a seat in the middle of the back row.

If there’s anyone out there reading who thought that I didn’t come home with a mixing bowl or two…you have not been reading long enough. I am hoping this one will finance the other two I bought, which I would like to keep. It’s almost 12 inches in diameter and I paid $22 for it, which is a lot, I know, but I’m hoping I can sell it for a decent profit.

After I bought these, the very confused couple sitting next to me said “We just have to ask you what you’re going to do with those.” And I was like, “Hmmm….I’m not sure.” I checked Pinterest to see if there were any interesting ideas; looks like some people use clock casings for shadow boxes or dioramas but it’s hard to see what you’ve got inside of them because it’s so dark. I’m wondering if I can somehow use them as frames. You will be the first to know once I figure it out.

This is a pretty big mirror, over three feet, and is really cool…except it’s damaged up at the top. The crack is under the surface of the mirror, but definitely visible, which is why I only paid $5 for it. I’m wondering if I can fashion some kind of decorative accent out of one or two of my vintage millinery flowers to disguise the flaw? Would that look cheesy?

By about 10 pm, it had cleared out quite a bit, and around 10:45, he made the announcement to grab what you wanted. It’s so fun. For the most part, you’re pretty much assured of getting your item for less than $10, unless it’s a hotly contested item, which none of mine were. I picked up another cuckoo clock for $5. This one I MIGHT be able to part with after I paint it. Remember the last one?

Yeah, haven’t been able to let go of it. Here’s the new one.

Theeeeeeennnnn things got a little hairy. Ken was getting tired and instead of auctioning things off one at a time, he ended up putting about 12-14 items out on a table and doing “Choice of.” Now it got risky, because you didn’t know if people were going to go after your item or not. I’m a naturally paranoid person who thinks that everyone loves what I love, so I was particularly vulnerable to this little ploy, and I ended up paying $16 instead of holding out for $5 for Alice Blue Gown:

I’m not that sad about it. I really do love her. The frame itself is so beautiful, and I bought her to keep instead of re-selling her, so I’m not too upset.

I did okay on these two items, for which I bit my lip and waited until the bidding halted at $6:

(The one on the left came from All My Treasures yesterday — 75% off!)

I am in deep and abiding love with this little, 4 inch mixer.

Which brings me to my last mixing bowl purchase. There was a set of these that included one larger than the one I brought home (I’m sure at one point there was a smaller one but it was nowhere to be found). When I first brought it to the table to be auctioned off at the end of the night I had high hopes to get each of them for $5, but then Ken went to choice, and I knew I was screwed. Still, I bit my tongue and waited through two rounds and no one took either bowl. The third round was for $13, and even thought I thought the pair was worth $26, I just couldn’t commit to that price, and was relieved to see that a man I was familiar with had won the bidding. He is my imaginary friend, meaning I like him and smile and say hello every time I see him, but he generally doesn’t notice and wouldn’t know me from Adam. He’s nice but not overly friendly, not pushy at all, but has a very forthright way of bargaining at yard sales and estate sales that I admire. He’s got long hair and on Friday was wearing John Lennon glasses, further endearing himself to me. ANYWAY, he always goes for the mantique sort of item, so I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw it was he walking towards the table… UNTIL HE GRABBED THE LARGER OF THE TWO BLUE BOWLS. WHAT THE WHAT??? Not only are you going to take my bowl, but you’re going to split the set? OH NO HE DI’INT. You sir, are no longer my imaginary friend. When Ken asked if anyone wanted anything else from the table for $13, I MAY have pushed an old lady over to get to this bowl.

Isn’t it beautiful? You know what would make it prettier? IF THERE WERE TWO OF THEM. About ten minutes after this transaction, my imaginary friend said to me, “I think you got the better deal…when I took a closer look at mine, I saw it had a hairline crack.” Now was my perfect chance to offer him $13 for it but it didn’t even occur to me. And I don’t know where he sells, so I can’t even see if I can try and find it. As I was leaving, he DID say, “Don’t I see you at yard sales sometimes?” And I said “Yes! The last sale I saw you at was the Hill Street Estate Sale!” And we reminisced about what a great sale that was. So now maybe he’ll at least say hi back the next time I see him!

There’s an auction on Monday night at the other auction house, and I will probably be there. I justify it by saying that there aren’t yard sales right now, and I need to get merchandise from somewhere, but there are two problems with this rationale: first, I am finding way more things that I want to keep for myself rather than re-sell, and second, I spend more money than I do at yard sales. Like the milk glass vase up there: I don’t think I would have paid $5 for that at a yard sale — it would’ve seemed too expensive at that price. But in the context of the auction, it starts to sound like a bargain. If you try and visit my blog and it appears to have been shut down, it is because I have bankrupted myself and my family through this addiction.

BTW: I am now on Instagram. Shara told me a while ago how much fun it is but until two weeks ago, I had a flip phone that didn’t even have an internet connection…I am rather low-tech in the phone area. But Justin saved all gift cards for two years and had enough after Christmas to buy us both new iPhones. Never thought I would have a phone so fancy and the thing I was most excited about was the ability to Instagram. I’m prettyquirkyblog and you can click on the Instagram button to the right of this post to find me.

One last thing…I completely forgot to show you what Shara brought for the twins’ birthday. A gift so cute and clever that only Shara could have created it.

There are two of them, of course, and you can probably guess that the other one is holding a “Jack” banner. The kids were so impressed that these gorillas knew their names even before they met them. Trust Shara to bring a bit of vintage cleverness to the party!

Hope you are all staying warm. Seems like most of the country is layered in snow right now, and we’re no exception…flakes still coming down and school cancelled for tomorrow. Let’s all hold on to the hope of Spring, shall we?

Linking up with The Nifty Thrifty at A Living Space and Make it Pretty Monday at The Dedicated House.

January 5, 2014 - 4:55 pm

Sarah Eh, why try to disguise the crack? I love my old mirror collection – imperfections are part of the deal. 🙂 (I can never tell if that type of venetian mirror is old or not, but still, I would buy it for the right price.)

January 5, 2014 - 5:26 pm

Melissa Yup, I get what your saying completely. Bidding on items is so exhilarating! I get all nervous that I’m going to have to bid against someone and then I’ll over pay because I can’t possibly back down. Yeah, it gets so intense for me that I don’t go to auctions much.
I LOVE that painting. She is so elegant and fancy. She was worth it.

And HAPPY BIRTHDAY to your little twinkies!

January 5, 2014 - 11:51 pm

Shara Boy, I feel famous seeing my name all over your perfect blog. You are a good friend and good for my non-existant ego. Glad the kiddos liked the smart monkeys.

I have only been to one auction like you go to – the ones I go to are at houses. Like where people live – they sell off everything room by room, closet by closet, sheds, garage, etc. It is awesome to see what people buy. I love it when they do choice – you just hold your breath thinking they are going to get that big box of tablecloths and they don’t – they grab the vacuum. Then they do it again and you hold your breath again and they take the blender. Oh I love a good auction. We will go to one and you will be HOOKED. And we will try to still be besties when it is all over. Besties have fistfights over linens, right?

I love your mixing bowl fetish and will keep my eyes peeled for some for you. I have one yelloware bowl but that is it.

PS I added 45 new instagram accounts today – check them out!

January 6, 2014 - 12:13 am

Pixie Vintage The next time you see that guy, why don’t you ask him about the bowl? I bet he will let you buy it…anyway, it couldn’t hurt to ask. Your treasures are wonderful, and I LOVE that mirror!!! I don’t go to auctions that much, and it seems that whenever I went, the one or two items I really wanted were the very last ones up for bid. Once I found a box lot of exquisite art deco watches that I really, really wanted…but I had to get home by a certain time, and of course they probably were the last thing up for bid. So I had to leave them. And I am still kicking myself in the butt for leaving without them. ugh

January 6, 2014 - 5:54 am

Chanelle Ambrose I totally get it all! I haven’t been to an auction in ages but now I wanna. I could also take it a step further and say that everything we pick up to flip is a gamble. Will it sell? Will I make money? How many shows (pulls of the lever) will it take to sell? Or will it be an instant jackpot…I mean seller. Dang now I want to go to the riverboats…or maybe the thrift…

January 6, 2014 - 9:45 am

Laurie That sale on Hill St will haunt me forever since I’m pretty sure I was at a DIFFERENT sale on Hill St, not the one you went to. 🙂

I agree with Sarah, that mirror is still AH.MAZING. You could hang a little boxwood wreath on a fat satin ribbon from the top, just low enough to cover the crack…

And that lady in blue is fantastic. So beautiful.

I’ve never been to a Ken’s auction. Silly, since I only live a couple of miles from their store.

Next time you see your secret friend, just ask him if he still has the bowl and how much he’d take for it. Can’t hurt.

January 7, 2014 - 7:10 pm

Shara Your imaginary friend isn’t Mr. Meth is it?

January 8, 2014 - 4:18 pm

jenny Can I just say, I really like the way you write? It’s so relatable and I can clearly picture it in my mind how you are feeling or what you’re seeing, or where you’re at.

When I was 16, my dad and his wife took my older sister and I with them to Atlantic City for a weekend. He gave us $40 each play money and told us to meet for dinner later. Well, if you have ever been to A.C. in the fall, you’ll know the beach is no fun and every one is inside the casinos gambling. So of course my sister and I want to see what gambling is all about. She was 18, so she could go in, but being 16, yikes, I would get carded. Lucky for me, I looked like I was 18, too, so we’d walk in with a crowd of adult strangers as far away from the door guy as we could, just in case I got carded. Played slots, which we figured was safe, and imagine my delight when I turned my $40 into $80!! I quit right there! I was happy to have doubled my money and didn’t want to lose it! Other than that, AC was pretty boring to a kid, and I’ve never gone back as an adult.

Auctions are fun, I’ve been to a few here and I really like them, but I guess I’m a little more frugal with my money. I only take about $50 in cash and once that’s gone, I’m done, but most times, I fill up the back of my Yukon (HUGE space), for $30 or less. Auctions are pretty good around here, and I’m dying for the next one because I need my fix!

Oh, and P.S., I found you on Instgram and am following you. I’m 516Vintage if you want to check out what I have. I sell stuff on there, trying to see if I can do better than my booth is doing!

January 10, 2014 - 3:28 pm

Ann I haven’t attended an auction in ages. Our auction house packed up and moved out. Love Alice Blue Gown!

January 27, 2014 - 9:41 am

Lara Jo Hi, Jenny! Your comment made my day. You’re too sweet. Thanks for following the blog and Instagram. I love your stuff. I am watching those of you selling on Instagram with great interest – seems so easy to do. No fees, either, like you would have with etsy or eBay. Very smart!!!

I am jealous of your filling up a Yukon for $30. That sounds like you hit some awesome auctions. I am not as good with my money as you are, although I’m getting better at stopping the bidding when it gets out of hand. Auctions are such an emotional thing — it’s easy for me to get carried away and then end up holding an item wondering WTF I was thinking. But the last few I’ve been to I’ve spent less and less, so I hope I’m getting a handle on it and figuring out how to handle my money.

Hope things are not too cold in your neck of the woods…

January 27, 2014 - 9:42 am

Lara Jo Shara! HA! No, my new name for my imaginary friend is Willie Nelson. Because that’s exactly who he looks like.

January 27, 2014 - 9:44 am

Lara Jo Laurie: Well, it could have been the same sale but if you hit it after the first wave of good stuff was gone, it wouldn’t seem as good. 🙁

Your idea about the boxwood wreath is genius. I believe that is what I will do.

I prefer Larry Williams to Ken, anyway, even though the one we went to together turned out to be kind of a dud.

January 27, 2014 - 9:47 am

Lara Jo Chanelle: it’s definitely the thrift you want to go to! Also, I keep thinking of questions to ask you about thrifting in Chicago (BTW, your really should start a blog) but then I forget by the time I get around to answering comments. Here is one I remember, though: do you go to Candace’s estate sales They’re almost all down south, usually in the Beverly area, and she takes houses that are just piled high with the most amazing junk…and her prices cannot be beat. I miss her SO MUCH.

January 27, 2014 - 9:51 am

Lara Jo Pixie Vintage: I saw him at the last auction I was at and I didn’t have the nerve to ask him about the bowl. Too shy! But I’m dying to, because I want to know where he sells. ALSO, at that last auction, he outbid me on yet another lot of mixing bowls! He needs to know that it’s a thin line between imaginary friend and NEMESIS.
Yes, timing is everything with auctions. I have discovered that if I come, ready to put in the long haul and sit for hours and hours, I get the better stuff for cheaper. Most auctioneers are ready to get rid of stuff by the end of the night (they go until 11 or 12 around here!) so things get boxed together in lots and sold quickly. But you will find a box lot of art deco watches again…my husband’s philosophy is always “if you found it once, you’ll find it again!” and even when I don’t think it’s true I try to believe it to keep myself from crying. 🙂