Auction House Social Club — Reflections

A multi-part entry from observations at an auction house. Starts here.

—-

Reflections

Meeting members of the Auction House Social Club like Black Jack and the many others who contributed to my research at the Columbus Auction has confirmed what my dad’s story about my deaf uncle pointed out to me years ago. These members have taught me that auctions truly are more than a place of financial enterprising. Auctions are “clubs” of social interaction built on a sense of community derived from extended communication and association.

gun1As a result of my research, I also realized that those who attain the high status of member in good standing are not your every day fly-by-night shoppers who are out only for a bargain. No, high status at the AHSC is attained by those of a different breed–a breed of people who are willing to weather the cold or heat of the seasons, willing to spend time as well as money and willing to accept others while sharing a part of themselves. They do it because they enjoy it.

As I reflected on my research, I realized that it was a continuation of a quest for community that began at one of the first auctions I can recall: the sale of my grandfather’s service station where the men lounged near the old potbellied coal stove. I remember the excitement as my cousins and I played hide and seek weaving our way through the crowd while the auctioneer blared out his song. As a child I was exemplifying what now understand: the location of and items at an auction are the fragile strings that bring people together for fellowship and allow the individuals to meld into community. As I told the auctioneer on my last visit to the AHSC, someday I want to return and see this community again-to see Black Jack and the others because I now see them as more than subjects of a study. They are members of a community I’ve tried to understand.

 

To be continued next week…

Copyright 2001 Michael Shead

All references available: http://drypixel.com/159/auction-house-social-club-references/

Auction House Social Club — Masquerade

A multi-part entry from observations at an auction house. Starts here.

—-

Membership Masquerade

At the Columbus Auction, there was a myriad of characters who paraded down the auction aisles every week and each character had a part to play. There was window man, carousel lady, auctioneer, assistant, junk dealer, antiquer, entertainment seeker (who just came to see the festivities), and, during my time at the auction, the participant observer among many others.

Attendance at this masquerade was a required part of the membership fee at the AHSC. While reasons for attending were unique to a person, each member chose to be there week after week because without them the AHSC would not exist and their presence would be missed.

Each member played his or her part in the masquerade. For the crowd, the masks remained up but, in private circles, members relaxed in the shade and masks fell aside revealing a common denominator. As members, everyone was a participant-friend. Those who returned to the auction floor maintained their role in the masquerade, but those privileged to the conversation knew they caught a glimpse of the man or woman behind the curtain. 

In October of 2001,I met the masquerading window man in a moment of repose. As the auctioneer slowly made his way down a row of items, 73-year-old Bill Osburn sat on a small table waiting for the auctioneer to reach an item he had his eye on. Like a golfer waiting for his turn on the green, he sat in the sunlight just watching the activity around him. His worn plaid shirt was threadbare in places and both his shirt and pants showed specks of white paint that had splattered during a recent painting project. He had an easy-going demeanor, a will to talk, and stories to share to listening ears.

“I grew up in the 1920s,” he told me. “I’ve been a plumber, bellboy, and even worked for a tanner, but now I do some painting and sell windows. That’s mostly what come to the auction for-windows.”

Although he masquerades as the window man at the auction, Bill lowered his mask to reveal what he really loves to do-play the guitar and sing.

The old man took me over to his truck and played a few tunes on his guitar. One of the songs he sang was made famous by country singer John Michael Montgomery. The song told about a romantic relationship that began at an auction:

guitar-bill

Bill Osburn breaks from the bidding area to play his guitar for me.

Well, the auctioneer was goin’ about a mile a minute. /He was takin’ bids an’ callin’ them out loud, / An’ I guess I was really gettin’ in it / ‘Cause I just shouted out above the crowd! /An’ I said, hey, pretty lady, won’cha gi’me a sign. / I’d give anything to make you mine all mine. I’ll do your biddin’ an’ be at your beckon call. . . . / I’m goin’ once, goin’ twice, / I’m sold! On the lady in the long black dress. / Well she won my heart it was no contest . . ./ Yeah, we found love on the auction block, An’ I hauled her heart away. / Now we still love to laugh about / The way we met that day (Fagan and Royer, 1997).

Even country songwriters have recognized the relational value of auctions. In their song Fagan and Royer romanticized the relationships that can be built when people get together, communicate, and find common ground in the things that bring them to that location.

While the unmasked Bill Osburn has a hankering for the six strings, at the auction he was after a friendly chat and a few windowpanes.

Continue reading

Auction House Social Club — Sharing Tales

A multi-part entry from observations at an auction house. Starts here.

—-

Sharing Tales

The sharing of stories is an integral part of the AHSC. The telling of one’s story and exchanging of tales are part of the building blocks that support the AHSC. Without the communication of individual experiences in the form of tales and stories, the community itself would be very fragile indeed. Adelman and Frey (1997) noted that communication is more than a single variable in the equation that makes a community. Rather, they describe community as the result of communication. “Community itself is best regarded as a phenomenon that emerges from communication” and “Communication is thus the essential, defining feature-the medium-of community” (p. 5).

Part of the communication that occurs among AHSC members are the stories of great deals they made or almost made. These conversations build rapport among the members as they share in the common feeling of loss and hope for another opportunity in the future. 

black-jack-billIn an interview with AHSC member, L. Horton, she told me about a bargain that got away:

I walked in and there was this huge statue. It was a bronze statue. Huge. So I knew who had signed it. It was signed and everything. One out of six. This guy was going to sell it to me for twenty-five hundred dollars, if I remember right. That’s iffy. It was right in the neighborhood of twenty-five hundred dollars and I could have probably got it for less. Well, at the time I was getting married, fixin’ to move up here and I took my fiancé and I said, “Hon. I think that this is a realRemington.” 

You know, the guy at the store thought it was a fake.

Long story short, I didn’t get it. He said no way are we going to get a fork lift and move that thing, you know, so many miles. I had the money and everything, you know, but he said, “No.”

I went back a couple of years ago and I walked in . . . and said, “What happened to that Remington you had in here?” I said, “Remember that big statue you had in the front of this place -that Frederick Remington?”

He said, “I gave it away.” He said, “Really, I got three thousand dollars out of it, but I gave it away.”

And I said, “You did?”

He said, “Yeah.” He said the guy who bought it had it appraised for a million dollars. And that’s a true story. And it was a real Remington.

And I think that has always sparked knowing there is stuff out there. It’s just hard to come by. You don’t think there is things out there like that, but there is.

AHSC members trade stories of loss and gain like fishermen swapping stories at the coffee shop on a Monday morning. As they sharing about the “one that got away” the members establish and sustain the community of the auction by taking on “shared meanings” that they find through the telling of their personal narratives (Adelman Frey, 1997, p. 5).

Conversations about loss and gain also help to preserve the community itself by planting hope that the mother lode or that big fish is out there waiting to be found. Just as the fellow fishermen felt a loss along with the old man in Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea (1952), members at the auction identify with each other through the sharing of stories that relay common experiences. They can identify with that loss and hope that such a break will come to them some day.

As heard Horton’s story, realized that I feel a sense of camaraderie with her because of my own experience of loss at an auction. I once found a nice camera and a great lens at an auction. With other things to do, left the auction and later found out that the camera sold for next to nothing. Only making the sense of loss greater, the auctioneer later told me I should have said something to him, because he would have sold it while I was there had he known I wanted to bid on it.

To be continued next week…

Copyright 2001 Michael Shead

All references available: http://drypixel.com/159/auction-house-social-club-references/

Auction House Social Club — Rounds

A multi-part entry from observations at an auction house. Starts here.

—-

Making Rounds

Increasing status and relationship between members require personal as well as the professional interactions. Members accomplish this by holding conversations and sharing information outside of the bidding circle. In my field notes I recalled some of these interactions.

Inside the auction barn, an old stove became the center of interactions for a group of men on one cold auction day. On that chilly and wet October afternoon, the auctioneer was slowly making his way through the wet items on the open lot while the enclosed auction barn became a haven for the chilled. Inside the auction barn, an overhead furnace belched warm air onto about 30 people who had gathered inside out of the cold. Some, like the three elderly ladies who had selected seats in the path of the warm airflow, were sitting and chatting with friends and acquaintances while others wandered about the barn looking at items, drinking from steaming cups of coffee or hanging around an old coal stove. auctioneer1The old stove with its stovepipe chimney that exited the building through a nearby window was cold and dark but still seemed to represent a gathering place for men. Middle-aged and older men walked up to the stove and put their hands out for warmth. They seemed disappointed at the unresponsive cold iron, but still they lingered as if the stove itself drew them together. As long as other people were there, it didn’t seem to matter that the stove was cold. Eventually, the old timers left, but another group soon reconvened at the stove. They, too, held up their hands and commented that the stove didn’t work well. While they realized that the stove wasn’t working, it still seemed to represent a point of connection, reminding me of a group of men who liked to sit around an old potbelly stove at my grandfather’s service station.

Although, recent arguments have arisen against the correlation between community and place (Bird, 1999). I propose that place as well as products play a major role in linking participants or members to a community. Bird (1999) quotes Doheny-Farina as supporting this concept: “A community is bound by place, which always includes complex social and environmental necessities” (p. 51). While the auction house plays the role of place, also found a location and item that illustrates the principal of products linking participants to a interaction as part of a community.

 

 

To be continued next week…

Copyright 2001 Michael Shead

All references available: http://drypixel.com/159/auction-house-social-club-references/

Auction House Social Club — Good Standing

A multi-part entry from observations at an auction house. Starts here.

—-

Achieving ‘Good Standing’

Throughout the early stages of membership at the AHSC, interpersonal relationships are being built. However, it is not until the initiate reaches the third stage that they achieve the title of member in good standing. 

The third stage of social standing at the AHSC is marked by the key factor of recogonizability among other members and the auctioneer. Members who attain this level receive a sort of tenure at the club receiving a permanent bid number as a symbol of their high status as well as the general recognition by other members as a “regular”.members

While official recognition comes from interactions with the auctioneer, the high relational status is achieved among members by making rounds and taking part in membership activities that building relationships.

 

To be continued next week…

Copyright 2001 Michael Shead

All references available: http://drypixel.com/159/auction-house-social-club-references/

Auction House Social Club — The Talk

A multi-part entry from observations at an auction house. Starts here.

—-

The Talk

New bidders must learn to understand the auctioneer and the rhythm of the auction song that may seem unintelligible to the untrained ear. The way auctioneers move their lips reminded me of a baby blowing his lips and letting them flap in the breeze or of someone imitating the Warner Brothers cartoon character Porky the Pig who ended cartoon shows with “bdib, bdib, bdib, bdib, that’s all folks!”overview

While auctioneers do not have the legendary reputation of used car salesmen, they are known for an occasional exaggeration. I once heard of an auctioneer who said he never lied…unless he had too. Maybe they don’t lie, but they do try to look on the bright side of their products.

At the AHSC, the auctioneer opened bids on an “antique table” that was nothing more than an extremely warped table top made of pressed wood drooping over a supporting frame on four old turned table legs. Keeping a rosy view of his products, the auctioneer claimed, “Put a new top and you’ve got a nice table”.

Later, while trying to sell a large squirrel-cage fan, the auctioneer assured everyone that the fan worked and had been used in the building standing nearby. “It kept blowing out the end of the building,” the auctioneer said of the fan. “That’s why he’s getting rid of it”.

I don’t know if the people believed him or not, but the fan never sold while I was there. By the time I left the auction the fan had been sitting on the lot for several weeks. Who knows how long it sat there before I came. Continue reading

Auction House Social Club–The Bid

A multi-part entry from observations at an auction house. Starts here.

—-

The Bid

For some veterans of the AHSC, the bidding may have lost its thrill but for me, this ritual was as exciting as ever. To me, the novice bidder, the suspense built as the auctioneer neared the item I was hoping to win. That particular time I had my eye on an old wall hanging that looked like a colonial-era drum. I thought it might be worth something. In my field notes I recorded this bidding experience:

I’m almost mesmerized by the auctioneer’s song as he gets closer to [the drum] I’m interested in. The more I think about it, the faster my heart race when I see my item on the block. I have to keep my cool and remember how much I’ve already decided I’m willing to spend. If I get caught up in the moment, it may cost me dearly when it comes time to pay my dues at the clerk’s desk. auctioneers

I did win the bid that afternoon. As I picked up my drum, I heard other bidders comment that it might be worth something when it is cleaned up. That was music to my ears.

In the second stage of membership, the newly dubbed member reaches the status of “bidder”. The more active the bidder, the more rapidly official status increases. (By official status, I mean the status among the officials who run the Columbus Auction.) However, bidders wishing to increase their membership status with other members must recognize that there is more to the AHSC than just buying things. It is a community. Continue reading

Auction House Social Club–ID Cards

A multi-part entry from observations at an auction house. Starts here.

—-

ID Cards

New members at the AHSC have to participate in a number of initiation practices to become a member in good standing. First, initiates must obtain their identification cards.

Wanting to maintain the role of participant-as-observer on my first day of observation, I asked directions to the clerk’s office and made my way into a tiny office tucked away in the comer of the auction barn. A small sign hung below the counter stating, “Thou Shalt Not Whine.”payingupAfter assuring the lady behind the counter that was not there to whine, I dutifully name and address on a clipboard and picked up my card-number 144. It was a white 3.75″ x 7″ card with the number handwritten with a thick black marker along one edge. I tucked it in my pocket to have it ready for a bid. Getting one of those little cards had always seemed to symbolize a right of passage to me. Children don’t get bid cards. Adults do. With a bid card, could enter the world of the AHSC as a card-carrying member. He who has the card can, if willing to pay enough, win the bid. Like getting your membership card for the country club, the bid card becomes the member’s identity card when it comes to buying anything at that particular auction. Having that card made me official and granted me a sense of belonging. While it reduced my public identity to a mere number, it gave me the basis on which to reveal my true identity to those choose. Continue reading

Auction House Social Club — Join the club

A multi-part entry from observations at an auction house. Starts here.

—-

Joining the Club

Joining the AHSC is not difficult. Nearly anyone can do it, but it takes time-a lot of interaction and time-to become a “member in good standing.” The quest for membership at the AHSC requires the potential member to do more than stand silently and bid on a few items.auctionstuff

The potential member must share time and a part of themselves through role-playing and self expression through personal stories, a sense of humor and even through their dress. While being present is important, interaction is of greater importance at the AHSC. I found that my presence did not lead to any important relationships until I began to interact with the other members. Joining the circle of high auction society takes a combination of time, effort, and simple enjoyment of the auction shared within the fellowship of other members.

 

To be continued next week…

Copyright 2001 Michael Shead

All references available: http://drypixel.com/159/auction-house-social-club-references/

Auction House Social Club — Findings

A multi-part entry from observations at an auction house. Starts here.

—-

Findings

On my first visit to the auction, I parked in a grassy spot next to a long row of cars, trucks and trailers and made my way over to the rows of merchandise where potential buyers were perusing tables covered with all types of auction items. There were antiques, tools, furniture, household items, exercise equipment, books and plenty of junk. You name it; they had it or would gladly substitute something else in its place. 

On first glance, I didn’t see the community I’d come seeking. It looked like an organized business. Items were numbered, people were there to buy and inside the auction barn a faded sign read: “Not responsible for breakage, Not responsible for accidents, Commission 15%.”auct

Accepting that first impressions can often be deceiving, I started looking deeper and began to see groups of people loitering about the lot as friends, associates and acquaintances met to chat before the bidding began. There was more to the activities at this cement and metal building than first met my eye. A business it was, but the Columbus Auction had become a place of interaction-a place where people gathered not only for the products that were sold, but also for the social interaction they found and the friendships they built there. The attendees at the auction developed a community that has been “created and sustained by everyday [in this case, weekly] patterns of human interaction that take on shared meanings among members of a particular group” (Adelman Frey, 1997, p. 5). After observing the auction and the strong social interactions that took place there, I dubbed it the Auction House Social Club (AHSC): A place where people buy a little, sell a little, and share a lot. 

In my mind the AHSC is not that different from a country club or weekly social gathering. Like a social club where the product being sold is a meal, a game of golf, or access to a swimming pool; the products sold at the auction were the loosely tied twine that kept the members involved as relational bonds were built and a community emerged.

While interactions among members of this community are only loosely knit together; repetition of shared events; exchange of information and stories, and the common location of the auction all contributed to the building of a sense of community. Items and places are the visible bonds of an invisible relationship called “community”. As Bird (1999) writes of her email fan group, the AHSC members built a greater sense of community through exposure of self and expression of ideas as they talked about the objects and situations surrounding them in the places where they are linked together.

 

To be continued next week…

Copyright 2001 Michael Shead

All references available: http://drypixel.com/159/auction-house-social-club-references/