Auction Post Mortem for Thursday 2/15/2024 - Flops, Floats, and Flights

Auction Post Mortem for Thursday 2/15/2024 - Flops, Floats, and Flights

This is the second edition of what I hope will be a weekly blog post looking back on the week's auction! If you missed the last such post, I am organizing my thoughts into three categories - flops (items that didn't do great in the auction), floats (items that did just about how I expected them to do), and flights (items that took off into the stratosphere!). I hope that Googlers out there might come across these posts and use the info in their own research on values of antiques, and that my weekly bidders might enjoy hearing my thoughts on the show.

To start, the biggest flop of the week was itself. My developers and I rolled out a last minute feature this week, and I think that somewhere in the process, something on the site broke. For some reason, logged in users weren't able to leave comments as they should have been able to. This was a huge frustration, but I quickly pivoted over to Instagram, where I used to host my auctions. I was, I think understandably, pretty stressed to have such a curve ball thrown at me last minute. I have had nightmares about my software failing me come show time. However, once my stress wore off, the show on Instagram went just fine, albeit a bit sluggish for my taste. Using Insta again re-affirmed my belief that hosting my auctions on my own, customized platform, is a better experience for my customers and me. So anyways, thanks to everyone for bearing with me this week, and see you all back here on next week. The issue has been resolved and we're already back up and running!

Now on with the items...

Flight: Memento Mori Skull Grave Rubbing

Purchased: $180, Sold $505

I purchased this grave rubbing in a New England online auction headquartered two hours from my home. Unfortunately, it was the only item in the auction that I liked, but I really liked it, so I decided I would be willing to drive the two hours for just the one piece. By the time the other bidders and the buyer's premium were through with me, I was on the hook for $180, which really stung. Not only was I driving across creation to get this thing, but I had to pay out the ass for it. Well, it ended up being completely worth it, with the item bringing a very impressive $505 come auction time.

Grave rubbings historically do very well in my auctions, and this was, I think, the best one I have ever had. Not only did it have an alluring skull, but also that alluring and esoteric phrase - memento mori. Rubbings typically bring $200 to $300 in my shows, so this was one definitely earned the flight designation. I think it was worth every penny, but it was certainly a surprise. Well worth the trip. That said, had I known that I would get another very similar one this past week for a third of the cost, I might not have taken the $180 risk.

Float: Memento Mori "Moonface" Grave Rubbing

Purchased $72, Sold $280


When I was bidding on the skull grave rubbing discussed above, I had a vague recollection of there being another grave rubbing I was interested in this week. I had totally forgotten that I had left a bid on one until, on the same morning I received the invoice for the skull one, I received the invoice for this one.The two look so similar, no wonder I had forgotten bidding on them both. I was considerably pleased to see that I won this one for $60, plus a 20% buyer's premium, bringing my total cost to $72.

Both of these items, though, had the unseen cost: fuel. I don't typically bring that into consideration in my short-term profit analysis. But consider this: I picked the skull grave rubbing up all the way across New Hampshire two hours away, and then turned around and went the opposite direction, another 3 hours deep into Massachusetts, to pick up this "moonface" one. It was a full day's driving that also necessitated me eating on the road (though no one forced me to eat six slices of pizza, that's on me). So a lot went into bringing these items to the show. I had to hope for really strong results for them to be worth it - and in the end, they totally were.

This "moonface" one I thought was a sure bet to be a money maker, but I was concerned - would having two so similar in the same week dull the novelty of them? Sometimes when I have two items that are the same, I'll conduct bidding on just one, and after bidding has concluded, bring out the second as a surprise and give my high bidder choice. That works well when you have two of the exact same item, but these were just different enough I thought it would be a disservice to the piece to not give it its own time in the limelight. Fortunately, both the skull one and this one did really well, with the "moonface" one bringing $280, right around where I expected it would land. To clarify, giving this $200 windfall a "float" designation is not to say it didn't do extremely well - it's just that I can look at an item like this and expect it will bring about that, whereas the skull one out-performed my estimate for what it would bring, which is why it gets the flight designation.

Float: Westclox "Celestial" Stars and Moon Clock and Paperweight

Consigned, Sold $210

This clock is really, really cool, and when my consignor showed it to me, I knew my buyers would love it. Unlike most of the items that I sell, this item was mass produced, so comps were plentiful online. There is one on Etsy with a reach price in the $700 to $800 range, an amount that seller will never get from a scrupulous buyer, given that there's another on that platform for half the cost. Other comps go from the sub-$100 to $400, so they're a little all over the place. At the end of the day, despite what some dealers are writing in their listings on online marketplaces, this clock, while amazing, isn't particularly rare. I can go buy one at a fixed priced right now if I want to, and so can my buyers. So when bidding stopped at $210 on this clock come auction time, I was very pleased with the result. Is it below most of the comps you'll find online? Yes, but its still a solid showing, right around where I hoped it would land. There was, of course, the possibility it would take off into the stratosphere, which it didn't quite do. Nonetheless, it floated along quite nicely. My buyer now has an opportunity to resell with some room for profit, which is always good to keep dealers and resellers coming back to the auction.

Flop: Greenwood Cemetery Reverse Painted Clock Door

Consigned, Sold $25

I feel bad giving this little clock-door-that-could the flop designation. The subject matter is just awesome - a cemetery! We love that. But the condition was just holding it back too much. It is restorable, I think, and if someone takes the care, its a really awesome 19th century morbid collectible. I thought that this might be enough to launch it forward a bit, but in the end, I was a little disappointment when it stayed at its $25 opening bid (though I'm always happy when someone gets a good deal on something they love). I think that maybe if the horse-drawn carriage actually was a hearse like I initially thought, or if the titular cemetery was actually visible in the painting, it might still have had a chance. No such luck, it is just what it is. I hope my buyer restores it!

Flop: Derby Silver Co. Silverplate Cameo Dish

Purchased $65, Sold $40

Yowch! A $25 loss stings. But I kind of saw the writing on the wall with this one. As I'll discuss shortly, at the antique market this past weekend, I felt like all I was buying was photography and ephemera. I had so few hard goods in my bag that I felt pressured to buy something 3-dimensional. I saw someone looking at this dish and thought it looked quite beautiful, and when they passed and suggested that a well-known and successful dealer I know might like it, I felt like I needed to pounce before it was too late. So I ponied up $65 for it, knowing that it doesn't quite have the esoteric charm that makes an item a real winner with my bidders. I thought the dragon head adornments might help, but in the end bidding stopped at $40. But hey, again, I like when people get deals, even if its at my expense. Not everything can be a home run, and I know my buyer is going to be really happy with this gorgeous piece. Especially if they look it up with Google image search like I did and see the one sitting pretty with a $200 price tag on Ebay!

Flight: Episodes of Insect Life (1851)

Purchased $75, Sold $350

I love this book so much, and I am so glad my bidders did too. My first encounter with this series was a few years back when I purchased a three volume set, including this one. I forget what I paid at the time, but I think I ended up selling the trio of books for around $200, ultimately not making much profit. This was before my auction days, and ever since I got into this game, I have regretted not still having those books.

When I first saw this spider-web adorned book sitting inconspicuously on a table at the flea market, I just about dove for it, recognizing it as my old friend. Sadly, it was just the one book. When the dealer told me $100 to purchase it, I didn't jump on the opportunity, remembering the lukewarm profit I made on my previous encounter with the book. I looked for something to bundle it with in the dealer's booth, but couldn't quite find anything. They welcomed an offer, but I declined to make one initially, deciding to look around the market to see what else I could spend my money on. As I wandered around, I couldn't keep my gaze from returning to the book, and I'm sure the dealer started to get annoyed with how I kept circling like an indecisive vulture. Eventually, I decided to offer $75, and the dealer readily accepted.

I'm glad I ended up with the book, because my instincts that this is a volume ripe for my auction was right on the money. My hope it would do well was bolstered by an enthusiastic response to the reel I posted highlighting it on Instagram the evening before the auction. Despite a low left bid that made me a little nervous, bidding was spirited throughout and it ended up doing extremely well, bringing a very strong $350.

Float: All Is Vanity Color Print

Purchased $100, Sold $190

I wasn't thrilled when the dealer selling this print at the market told me it would cost me $100 to take it home. I tried to haggle with him a bit, but a said in my auction highlights post this week, I was sitting in his booth waiting for him to return. Sitting in a booth with your hand on an item is akin to showing your hand in poker. I think the dealer knew I would buy it regardless of the price, being as I was camped out buy it. He rejected my $80 offer, so I porked over the hundo and it was mine.

Versions of this print typically bring in the $200 to $300 range for me, and I was hoping that this rare color version might inspire bidders to reach beyond that. Bidding stopped at a respectable $190. I think the buyer got a great price, and I just about doubled my money, so I am a happy camper.

Float: Photography

As I said earlier, at the market(s) this weekend, I felt like all I was buying was photography. First, I dropped $200 on a massive lot of boarded photos and cabinet cards, the two most interesting ones being a great post mortem (sold for $135), and another of a n undertaker's storefront (sold $74). What I didn't realize, was that mixed in the lot was also the undertaker's hearse on a real-photo postcard, which alone brought $70. In total, the $200 lot of photos exactly doubled for $400 gross. Nothing at all to sneeze at, and strong results for this category of photography.

Next I purchased a large lot of hard images, mostly ambrotypes and tintypes in cases. Most of them, though, weren't very interesting - basic portraiture. Still, there was enough quantity there that I figured I could sell each image for $20 to $50 and make up the $200 the dealer wanted for the lot and have a little profit left over. I reserved some of the photos for my barn sale, and sold about half of them. Five photos brought $202, with the bulk of that coming from the double ambrotype, which I sold for a buy-it-now of $80.

A this point I'm five minutes into the opening of the first of two antique markets this past weekend, and I have already dropped $400 on photography alone. So when I had the chance to pick up another lot of photos for $60 with some interesting subjects - a bridge, some actors, groups of well-dressed folks - it was like a drop in the bucket. Maybe I should have done those photos as auctions rather than the affordable buy-it-nows I offered, as the $60 lot brought just $95 when sold individually.

The best photo I bought this week was an incredible double daguerreotype of a very handsome couple in an equally handsome thermoplastic gutta percha case. This photo was one of the clearest and cleanest antique images I have found. I was so excited about it that when I saw a prominent daguerreotype collector and dealer at the market I got it at, I couldn't help but brag a little that I got to a good one before he did. I felt bad, then, because he really wanted to buy it from me, but I wanted to save it for my bidders. I purchased it with another small photo for $125, and the double dag brought $200. A very strong showing, but I think there was potential there for it to really take off and bring considerably more. In the end, it floated along just fine.

Flight: Undertaker's Ephemera

Gifted to me, Sold $100

It's hard to argue with pure profit. As a rule, I typically don't sell gifts. But a gift given to me from a dealer friend who knows I resell all of what I buy from him, I make an exception for. That dealer friend has been absent from markets for some time, but has just started showing up again, much to my delight - not just because I like his stuff, but also because I like him as a person. Last week, I stepped up and got him a quick and cool profit by purchasing a Rock of Ages print that he had bought moments earlier. As a thanks for the quick sale, he gave me these documents this week, knowing how much I love this kind of thing. The fact that they sold for $100, out-performing my expectations by two-fold, helped to lessen the sting of that very Rock of Ages print selling for just $100 last week.

Flop: Hand Painted Kewpie Tray

Purchased $25, Sold $65

I'm not really being fair to this awesome tray by calling it a flop. Had I gotten $65 for this tray a year ago, I'd have been totally happy (I'm still totally happy, I am always happy selling cool stuff to the coolest people). But a few months back I saw a similar tray - a mass produced one that was just barely vintage, with multiples sitting on other sites ready for purchase - sell for like 500 big ones in a Facebook auction. That's what I call auction magic, and you can rarely replicate it. Independent of that once-in-a-million-years result, I loved this hand painted tray that I had this week, so was very eager to buy it for $25. The $65 it brought is great, and I am thrilled to find it an awesome home with a favorite customer. But boy would it have been fun to see it launch!!!

Other Items of Note

Float: 1929 Mickey Mouse Composition Toy; Purchased $25, Sold $65

Flop: Barbershop Bottles; Purchased in lot for $40, Sold ~$15 each


Flop: Oil on Board Painting of Blonde Woman; Purchased $35, Sold $30


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