Auction Post Mortem for Thursday 2/8/2024 - Flops, Floats, and Flights

Auction Post Mortem for Thursday 2/8/2024 - Flops, Floats, and Flights

You can watch the replay of this auction here

Instagram followers who subscribe to my paid content over at @memoryholevintage (I offer some bonus content for $1 a month - check it out!) will be familiar with my weekly "Auction Post Mortem" videos. Its a weekly live video I do immediately following every live auction that gives some context for the show, my immediate reactions to its successes and failures, and some other insider info. In my attempts to make this blog a more active space and be open and transparent with my customers and friends, I'd like to start doing a written edition of that information as well, free to anyone who happens upon this blog.

I've decided its going to take the structure of flops (items in the auction that failed to meet expectations), floats (items in the auction that just about met expectations), and flights (items that exceeded expectations). I hope this doesn't sound too much like a middle school report card, but I think it will be a fun way to organize my thoughts. Let's get on with it!

Flop: Rock of Ages Print

Purchased $75, Sold $100

The Rock of Ages and the Pharaoh's Horses are two of the most iconic images in American Traditional Tattooing. For that reason, true antique prints of these images tend to fetch hefty prices among tattooers and tattoo collectors/enthusiasts. So when my dealer friend threw out a hefty $75 price tag for this ROA (read more about buying it in the auction highlights post), I didn't hesitate, and couldn't pay him fast enough.

When the item came up for auction, bidding was incredibly sluggish, and I think my disappointment was likely very evident to my viewers. Generally I would hope a print like this would bring $200 to $300, so when bidding stopped at $100, my heart sank a bit. I'm not exactly sure why this one didn't take off, but I'll bet it has something to do with 1) the right people not being in the room, and 2) fear of a hefty shipping bill for this large item scaring off prospective buyers. That's part of why I cap shipping at $40 per package in my auction, but that's not always enough. In the end I charged the customer $30 to ship this 24" x 28" print to Florida, but it actually ended up costing $50, which cut deeply into an already slim margin.

In the end, this item was a big time flop, and after all is considered, I probably lost a few dollars on it. Still, I wouldn't hesitate to buy it again, because tattoo adjacent material is exactly the kind of stuff I want to be selling, and the people who love it are the kind of people I want to be selling to. I'll just hope for better results on the next one.

Float: Victorian Bird Dome

Purchased $175, Sold $220

I purchased this domed taxidermy bird diorama at a pretty fancy antique show. When the dealer told me that he wanted $200 for the piece, I walked away without it, wanting to see what else was at the show. When I didn't turn up much from the other dealers, I went back with a $150 offer, ultimately buying it for $175. I felt that his $200 price tag was probably close to the top end of retail on it, so negotiating a lower price left me a bit of wiggle room to make some profit, and gave me a great item I knew would attract bidders to the show.

Beautiful as this dome was, it had only two birds, and not the most extravagant of presentations. The dome that I had several months back with many more birds was so over-the-top beautiful, I wasn't at all surprised it brought $750. My instincts were right about $200 being close to retail on this one, so I was unsurprised and unbothered when it brought $220. I think that's a really solid result, and I was very happy to get a cool item into the hands of a great customer while making a little extra money to cover expenses.

Flight: Women Playing Cards Tintype

Purchased $100, Sold $405

The last time I had a tintype of people playing cards - men playing cards - it brought over $600, so although $100 for a single tintype was enough to make me a little queasy, I couldn't pass up the opportunity. I hoped that the novelty of this one depicting custom-breaking Victorian women playing cards would help to carry it into the stratosphere come bidding time. I was right to take the risk, because once again two competitive bidders wanted this item, and it flew past the $100 I paid, ultimately bringing a very impressive $405. I call that auction magic, and I don't necessarily expect to be able to replicate that fire in the future, but you bet I'll be trying to buy every tintype of gamblers I find.

All of the other photography in this week's show also brought impressive results. A cabinet card of an early electrical lamp shop brought a surprise $98, a mounted turn-of-the-century interior photo displaying a Pharaoh's horses on the wall brought $50, a barbershop interior brought $70, and a cabinet card of the aftermath of the Bardwell's Ferry Disaster brought $80. 

Float: Alchemy Laboratory Engraving

Purchased $125, Sold $200

I thought there was a chance this print could totally flop. As I said to the dealer I bought it from, "I just wish there was a skull or something sitting on this table," gesturing to the laboratory work bench in the image. Though incredibly cool, it was missing a level of spookiness that would have sent it over the edge. I was banking that the strangeness of the table of alchemical symbols printed beneath the image would have just enough oomph to make it a winner, but that was a risk. In the end, I think the selling price of $200 was just about right on the money on what I hoped it would bring, though just shy of what might have gotten this item the "Flight" designation.

Flight: Edgar Allan Poe Tales of Mystery and Imagination (1936)

Purchased $175, Sold $395

When I saw a price tag of $200 for this incredible Edgar Allan Poe book with illustrations by Harry Clarke at the antique show, I almost slunk away. But intrigued by the potential windfall the Master of Macabre often brings, I had a closer look, and was really taken with this incredible volume. I never really look things up when I am out and about; if I had looked this book up, I likely would have seen the one that was sitting on eBay for around $80 and walked away. It wasn't until after I ponied up the dough and had this one home and started to do a little research that I found that comp. However, the one on eBay was absolutely thrashed, with the binding being almost completely disconnected. I hoped that the condition of the one I had in hand would satisfy my bidders to spend up a little more, and said as much during the live show, admitting that there was another elsewhere online. My instincts on this book were right, and the result was a $200+ profit.

Flight: The Young Pearl Divers (1906)

Purchased $50, Sold $200

I put the price on the Poe book above as $175, and this book as $50, but in reality, I bought both from a dealer bundled with a small book on Japanese art, for $240. The Young Pearl Divers had one of the most alluring book covers I had ever seen, so although I was disappointed to see its $80 price tag at the antique show, I was still determined to walk away with it. That's what led me to looking at the Poe book, and the Japanese book, hoping I could bundle and save. My hope with this book is that the incredibly beautiful exterior could make up for a subject matter - Australia - that was kind of niche. The interior art work - photos and paintings of deep sea divers, among other scenes - certainly helped aid in the goal of broadening its appeal. Fortunately my instincts on this book having inherent value as an art object were right on, and a few power bids from a regular bidder of high-concept items later, bidding came to $200 and I was smiling wide.

Float: Framed Artwork

I had a lot of framed artwork for this week's show. I had purchased a handful of beautiful hand colored animal plates at an antique show, and managed to find the time in the 24 hours until showtime to mat and frame them. I spent $25 on the bundle of 6 prints, and while in total they grossed $229 with hammer prices ranging from $14 to $65, I thought they might do a bit better individually. I was especially surprised the cheeky smiling bat print didn't bring more than the $45 it did. Still, at the end of the day, a $200 profit (less the cost of the mats and frames which I had on hand) is hard to argue with. In retrospect I wonder if I could have saved some time and shipping costs simply by matting them and foregoing the cost and effort of framing, but I ultimately prefer to provide my customers with a finished, ready-to-display product.

I also had a trio of pastels of beautiful women this past week. I personally really liked them, but, like the alchemy print, they were a bit plain. Still, they were beautiful and I hoped they might catch on, so I paid $75 for the grouping at the antique show. I sold them on choice, and was grateful when the winning bidder took all 3 at $30 each, for a $90 sale. I might have put a $15 profit, whittled away by shipping and transportation expenses, in the flop column, but I'm giving them the float designation because I think I bought them right around the retail price and couldn't have hoped for a whole lot more.

Float: CDV Photo by Mrs. Stuart

Purchased $75, Sold $155

I purchased this spirit-photography-adjacent photo (read more about it here) from a Facebook group in a DOND style sale. DOND stands for Deal or No Deal, and is essentially an auction where the seller ultimately has no obligation to actually sell the item. They can also end bidding at any time by replying "deal" to a bid they favor. It can be tricky. The dealer listing this photo did a great job selling it by giving the history of the photographer and her connection to spirit photography - otherwise it would have totally flown under my radar. The only bid on the photo at the time I saw it was $25. Wanting to scare off the competition and end the DOND process quickly, I threw out a powerbid of $75, and the dealer quickly accepted.

I know that I have many bidders who are photography enthusiasts, and I know I have many bidders fascinated by the history of spiritualism, so this item was ripe for my auction. I was extremely pleased with the $155 it brought, which was right around what I had hoped it would bring - a quick doubling of my investment. The fact that a photo tangentially related to spirit photography had such a strong result means that if I ever have a chance to get an actual spirit photograph for a low price, I'll be all over it.

Flight: Silver-toned Opera Glasses with Handle

Purchased $30, Sold $315

These opera glasses were the fourth item into the auction, and they set the tone for a great night. I usually open the first half hour of the show with mid-range items with a broad appeal that aren't necessarily my big draws for the evening. I want to save the big stuff for around the 8:30pm mark when everyone is warmed up, has a drink in hand, and is comfortably wearing their bidding pants. So when these incredibly gorgeous opera glasses took off and flew over the moon four items in, I was incredibly delighted. I expected they would bring in the $75 to $100 range, and they blew past that, ultimately bringing $315.

This was actually the second pair of opera glasses I sold in this still-early portion of the show. The third item I put up was a stunning mother of pearl pair that I had purchased the day before for $20. They ended up selling for only $50, which I think was a bit of a mini-flop for an item that generally brings a little bit more. This made the strong showing of the second pair all the more surprising and exciting. Both pairs sold to the same customer, who collects them. I'll definitely be on the lookout for more.

Flight: Poetry of the Woods Book

Purchased $25, Sold $170

This one was a sleeper. I don't actually have a picture of the book to share, but I wish I did because it was incredibly striking. The cover was adorned with fancy gold leaf lettering spelling out its title. The cover also boasted that the book was "elegantly illustrated," which indeed it was, but the illustrations were sparse. It seems a universal truth among young and old that picture books are the most fun kind. I was fearful that the small number of pictures in this book would hold it back, and that I might not make back my $25 investment, but thought that, like The Young Pearl Divers, its merit as an art object, and the folky nature of its subject matter, would make it a success. A commenter chiming in that the edition that I had was a particularly rare one was certainly a boost to the bidding, and this book ended being an end-of-night surprise, bringing a very strong $170.

Other Items of Note

Flight: Native American Folk Art Painting (2008) by Richard Bosco Chalmers; Purchased $1, Sold $40

Float: St. Therese Relic; Purchased $25, Sold $46

Float: Nursing "Murder" Bottle with Box; Purchased $25, Sold $45

Float: Central Queens YMCA Bag; Purchased $25, Sold $70

Flight: Candleday Art Book, 1st Edition; Purchased $1, Sold $68

Flight: Corticelli Kitty Kat Thread Advertisement; Purchased $10, Sold $60

Flight: Halloween Noisemakers; Purchased $25 each, Sold $75 and $70 respectively

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