Wednesday, October 5, 2005

I've Got Five, Will You Give Me Ten

A rural public auction is nothing like a Sotheby's auction in which the auctioneer speaks in a precise, well pronounced English. A rural auctioneer prides himself or herself on how fast they can speak letting prices roll off their tongues faster than a bell clapper in a goose's ass. Pretty darn fast in other words. For someone not used to them, I imagine it is almost as if it were a foreign language but once you get the hang of it, you're good. My foreign born wife for whom English is her second language, was able to pick it up very fast and at her second auction was already buying things much to my amazement. There are many types of bidders at auctions and that is what I wish to elaborate a little more in this blog today.

The bidder that I hate to get into a bidding war the most is the no-holds-barred-take-no-prisoners bidder. They are a bidder who has it set in their mind that the object of their affection is being bid on right that moment and they were going to bid whatever it takes to get that object even if it breaks the bank. Whether they can buy a brand new one for a cheaper price never seems to enter their minds. Mostly the demographics of this group falls under the female persuasion especially when it comes to jewelries, glass, china and other fine things like that but not always. I once saw a man drop around fifteen grand at an auction buying up antique furniture of his grandmother who evidently decided to stave off sibling arguments by selling the works after her death. Just this past weekend, another fellow just held up his bidding card like a credit card as the auctioneer counted higher until he was the last bidder standing at $700 for an old table in much need of repair. But these men seem to be a rarity in this category.

Junk dealers and the occasional auction obsessed individual make up another category. In this group, they are the ones who buy up large quantities of junk in boxes that nobody in interested, usually for a token bid of one dollar. The junk dealers will them find a couple pieces that they can sell to someone who just has to have "one" or needs "one" to complete their collection for a lot higher price. If they buy a box that contains thirty items for only a dollar, they only need to sell one item for a dollar to break even. There must be some moneymaking occurring judging by their numbers but I've never seen a really rich looking one. Occasionally you see someone who is just obsessed at the notion of getting an entire box of anything for a dollar and they can be seen hauling away their prizes to a groaningly overweight vehicle.

There are the prize hunters who search the auctions for that one highly collectible item that they know they can turn around and sell for big bucks. Because there are usually more than two of these people at any given auction, they have to resort to simple tricks in order to get their prize for a cheap price. The most common trick is to "stack" a box. They get to the auction well in advance and hide their prize in the bottom of a box of junk that will most likely sell for a buck. Then once they have one the bid, they will excitedly dump all the junk out, retrieve the prize and leave the rest lay. I like to bid them up just for sport when I can spot them just so they have to pay more than they would have and ruin their profit margin. Sometimes it doesn't even have to be for something valuable but merely just because they really want the item and don't want to have to bid against it. I once saw a woman sort through a pile of cookbooks and pick out an old Betty Crocker one that usually go for a good price. She carried it around for a while as if studying it before the auctioneer got to it and then slipped it into a box of stuff that she had already bought. I was going to call her on it but when I got over to where she was, she had slipped through the crowd and disappeared. These are the most detestable people at an auction.

There is another group that is quite common at an auction for which I cannot come up with a good description. They will excitedly jump into bidding on a newly presented item only to bow out quickly when their maximum bidding limit has been reached. They are similar to the obsessed bidders but their bidding limits are slightly higher. The key difference is that the obsessed bidder bids on absolutely everything.

I am a background kind of bidder. I have looked over the object that I intend to bid on before the auction or at least before the auctioneer gets to that wagon of stuff. I have a mental price in my head of how high my limit is and I always try to stick with it. So when the object is up for bid, I am not one of the people standing really close to the auctioneer. I stand in the background on the periphery of the sales ring but in full view of the auctioneer. There are two things that happen at the beginning of the bid. The auctioneer starts at a high price and works the crowd gradually lowering the bid until someone jumps in or he starts it low and a bunch of people jump in immediately. If the latter happens, I just sit and watch until the bidding is slowing down before jumping in, only if it is still in my price range. If not, I just let it go and start focusing on the next item. If the former happens, it takes a little bit more finesse.

If you wait until he gets down too low, the auctioneer may lump that item with more items to get the desired bid. You either end up purchasing a pile of stuff you didn't want just to get the item you wanted or if you are unlucky, he throws in an item that someone else wants for more money than the object you wanted. For example, at one auction, I once bought a couch just to get the real desire of my wife, a pair of leather suitcases. Having no way to haul a couch or a desire for that particular style, we simply picked up the suitcases and left the couch. If your item gets lumped into a group of items and you get outbid, you can always try asking the winning bidder if they would sell you your item of desire. Sometime they will, sometimes they won't. It's a crapshoot. If you jump into the bidding too soon, sometimes you can get stuck with an item for an opening bid and perhaps could have gotten it cheaper had you waited for the auctioneer to come down.

A bidding circle is much like a poker game in that reading faces can save you a lot of money or missed opportunities. Stand in the circle and everyone can see who is bidding and can maybe read your face. Stand outside the circle like I do and they don't know who they are bidding against nor can they read your limits. For me, most people at an auction suck at maintaining a "poker face." I can tell that they are at their limit and no that if I were to raise the bid a time or two that it would most likely be mine. You can tell the opposing bidder is most likely past their mental limit by pauses as the contemplate raising the bid or not. I bid rapid fire until reaching my limit so that they never know where that might be and it also prevents people from raising the bid and dumping out at the end just to make you pay a higher price for the item.

Finally, everyone has his or her own style of bidding. To jump into a bid, you must be more aggressive unless the auctioneer knows you would be interested in the object ahead of time either by experience or directly expressed. Some people hold their bidding cards in the air, others make a shooting gesture with their hand and others like me simply wait until the auctioneer's gaze is in my direction and give a hand gesture. Once you are in the bidding, the auctioneer will direct his attention back towards you whenever your bid is now "out" or now lower than another one. In this case, a simple nod will get you back into the top bid or a shake of the head to let them know that you aren't interested in it anymore. Some people merely wink, others will give another hand gesture and yet others will hold up their bidding number. I prefer to keep my number hidden in the case of multiple bidding circles going on at once so that someone else doesn't purchase items using it.

I love going to auctions on a late fall early winter day and spending my time looking for some oddball thing that would be nice to own cheaply. It is very relaxing falling into the cadence of the auctioneers call and exciting to win a bid knowing you just saved yourself some money for something maybe slightly used, or maybe find that knick knack that would look good in your collection. And once in awhile, you strike it rich and find something almost priceless in your eyes. Just don't let me catch you getting it by stacking a box or I just might bid you up for the hell of it.

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