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.

This concept of community is what many veterans of the auction seem to understand. Like my deaf uncle, they have come to realize they can enjoy the entertainment and fellowship of the auction activities while only bidding occasionally.

During my first visit to the AHSC, I found some veterans of the auction looking at a set of filing drawers. Their conversation is one example of how the auction is more than a place of products. It is an experience and community where many spend a large portion of their time:

“If we’d stop going to these . . . [expletive] auctions for a year, you’d have something to put in it,” a man told another who was looking at the filing drawers.

“Yeah,” another replied. “But just think of the fun you had buying it”.

These gentlemen recognized that part of the purchase price of an item includes the experience and the stories that go along with an auction. A general store or Wal-Mart does not offer that experience or the stories that can be shared after an auction. It is like the difference between going to the public golf club and hitting on the range alone or going to the country club to tee off with a group of your buddies. The former provides only the exercise or the product, while the later provides an experience, fellowship and the product to boot. True membership in good standing is noted for its sense of enjoyment and the fellowship that comes from spending time with members of the community.

On October 9,2001 I asked an auction veteran what keeps him coming back after50 years of attending auctions. In my field notes I recorded a reply to this question from B.Handsly:

“The people,” he replied. “I buy a few things I need, but I really come because of the friends I like to talk with.”

He pointed over to the furniture section where small groups or individuals had gathered in the shade on this sunny afternoon-a perfect day for an auction.

“They’re not here to buy,” he said. “They’re here because of each other.”

He explained that the auction is more than a place to buy things-it is a place to see old friends and meet new ones. Listing several names Handsly pointed out several men he met while spending time at the auction.

“They come to talk and hear what’s going on in the world,” he said. “And they know [what’s going on in the world].”

At the Columbus Auction lookers-those who look but don’t end up buying anything–wander through the rows examining the goods until they decide whether they want to bid. Then they have to be quick of eye and ear to keep up with the auctioneer and get their choice product at a price they are willing to pay. It is all part of learning to talk the talk of the auction.

To be continued next week…

Copyright 2001 Michael Shead

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