Auction Post Mortem for Thursday 3/14/2024 - Flops, Floats, and Flights

Auction Post Mortem for Thursday 3/14/2024 - Flops, Floats, and Flights

Watch the auction here.

I am a couple days late with this week's auction post mortem. After each auction, even the ones that end past midnight after a four hour marathon, like this past week's, I get right to work generating invoices, which is much quicker on my new platform than when I used to do everything manually. Despite my exhaustion by the time this task is done, I usually spend another hour or more analyzing the numbers from the night's show, comparing them to previous shows, and looking for trends and patterns. Inevitably I get caught up doing this while listening to podcasts, and by the time I'm done, its 3am and I am beat. Well, that habit of burning the midnight oil got the best of me this week, and I woke up Friday morning after just a few hours of sleep with the worst headache of my life. That meant that the day's tasks of packing and shipping everyone's orders and putting together this blog post would have to wait. It takes a lot for me to take a sick day, so you know it was bad when I spent the whole day in bed, too woozy even to pass the time messing around on my phone. Anyways, its Saturday, and after a day doing yard work outside, I'm ready to dish about Thursday's auction. Just note that I didn't have a chance to grab photos of some items before I shipped them out this morning, so this might be a blog light on pictures. You can always watch the show to see what everything looks like.

This past week's show was a hodge-podge of a teeny tiny selection of items I was able to pick up at a couple local antique shows mixed together with a number of consignments from some friends in Brooklyn, New York who visited the sale a week ago. Having those consignments really saved my ass this week, because when these antique shows don't produce, I start to panic. Luckily, a local Wednesday in-person auction, and a handful of consignments from a customer in Vermont, helped to pad what would have otherwise been a somewhat forgettable line-up. In the end, we had a sizeable 89 lot auction, with some impressive results.

Notably, 39 of those 89 lots were consignment items, which highlights how this relatively new aspect of my business is having an impact on my shows. Even though it is far less profitable than buying items outright, it is a risk free way for me to bring new, diverse inventory to my shows. Further, I really like that it allows for regular auction goers to have a stake in the success of our auctions, to participate beyond bidding. If anyone out there reading is interested in consigning items, feel free to get in touch. I am somewhat selective about the items I accept for consignment, as I do have a general curation direction in mind. Other things to keep in mind are the size of items - they should generally be easily shippable - and the value of items - its probably not worth the time for either of us to divide the take from a $5 sale. You can email me with photos at, or DM me on Insta.

There was a moment in Thursday's show that I think was a particularly special one that is sure to be remembered in the MHV lore for a long time to come. Let's get into some flops, floats, and flights. This first one is a major flight:

Flight: 1972 Parker Brothers William Fuld Ouija Board

Sold: $805

When my very good buddy Aaron of Esotericana asked me if I would be willing to run a Ouija board in Thursday's show to benefit a mutual friend's elderly mom's medical expenses after an accidental fall, I eagerly agreed. When he handed over the board and I saw that it was a mid-70s Parker Brothers version, something I'd typically walk right by when out picking, I thought to myself that the amount of money it was likely to bring wouldn't be enough to move the needle when it comes to the high cost of medical and elder care. But hey, anything helps. I'll never underestimate the generosity of my audience again.

When bidding got going, after starting at $20, the bid quickly climbed to $50, and I was feeling really excited that we'd have something more than a few bucks to give back to someone in need. If it wasn't obvious at $50, it became clear when the bid hit $75 that my bidders were motivated not by their desire to have a dime-a-dozen Ouija board, but instead were motivated by their desire to lend a hand. The winning bidder, Jeremy, said as much, lamenting the burden medical debt can have on people. Then something really unexpected happened...

Bidder SpiritsAmongUs asked if she could make a separate donation to the cause. This started an incredible, unforgettable chain reaction of spontaneous, unprompted generosity. Bidder after bidder pledged to help out, asking for donations ranging from $20 to $100 to be added to their bills. What can I say that this act of giving doesn't say for itself? Its the sort of kindness that you can't help but get choked up by, that really tempts you to renounce cynicism and adopt a little bit of hope. Sure, is the necessity of such giving indicative of something broken in our society, in the systemic way we fail to care for those in need? Absolutely. But in the face of the wreckage of a system that doesn't meet the challenges faced by so many, there are those that would give selflessly to pick up the slack, to buffer the lag in progress.

By the time donations were done pouring in, $805 had been raised from coast to coast to help someone none of us are ever likely to meet. Its the coolest thing that has ever happened in one of my auctions, and I don't know if anything will ever top it.

Flop: Double 1863 Casket Plaque Shield Display

Traded for Good Will, Sold $140

When Aaron brought over the Ouija board, he also brought this incredible double casket plaque display to trade to me for future goodwill when I've got something he really wants. Its been in the back of my mind for months since I saw it hanging on the wall at his house. Its got so much going for it: two Civil War era casket plaques for young siblings who died days apart, presented beautifully in a custom crafted frame. Its just the kind of somber, mournful antique that typically takes off. I routinely see regular, run of the mill casket plaques bringing $65 to $100, so I figured this elevated version should be good for a couple bills at least. No such luck - bidding stopped short at $140. I think there's a lot of meat left on the bone there for the buyer to resell in the future, should they want to. I had no up front costs, so I'm still throwing this in the win column, but next time I see something similar (if I ever do, this was a really unique piece), I might think twice before spending up for it.

Float: Winslow Health and Hygiene Circulatory System Poster

Consigned, Sold $150

I was consigned two incredible anatomy posters this week. The first one to go up was this beautiful circulatory system poster, wonderfully illustrated, and very impressive in size at about 44" in width. It brought $150 which was to-the-dollar what I expected it would bring. Floating right along...

Flight: Winslow Health and Hygiene Nervous System Poster

Consigned, Sold $270

I knew this one would do better than the circulatory system poster - the nervous system is just a more aesthetically interesting component of the human anatomy. What I didn't expect was that it would bring nearly double what the first one brought! I think this was somewhat helped along by the winning bidder on the circulatory poster wanting to bring home the pair. Ultimately it brought $270, which flew right past where I thought it would go.

Flight: "Necromancy or Pseudo-Spiritualism" Book, 1853

Consigned, Sold $200

I was a little nervous about this book. It had one major thing going for it: subject matter. Its hard to think of something of greater interest to my audience than an original primary source relating to the spiritualism movement of the Victorian era, this book being a duo of sermons on the Church's perspective. With that said, aside from the subject matter, its aesthetically quite boring. Its a simple book, with no decoration on the slim spine aside from the title (though having a book spine in your library that just says "Necromancy" is pretty cool), no decoration on the cover, and no illustrations inside. Just text. I say this all the time, and I have probably said it on this blog at some point, but children and adults agree: picture books are the best books. But this was the little-book-that-could, and the fascinating topic was more than enough to fly this little puppy to an impressive $200. I'll remember that when I'm out shopping - great subject matter is enough, even if there's not much else going on.

Flight: "Flowers for Mother's Grave" Book with Funerary Ephemera and Locks of Hair

Purchased $50, Sold $200

Speaking of books with great subject matter, here's another. I first became aware of this book in a for-sale post from a fellow seller on Instagram. I almost bought the copy they had, but wondered if I might be able to find a better price elsewhere, so I did a quick Google. I quickly found a link to another copy for sale that had a much cooler cover, was an earlier edition, and was comparable in price. What really made me pull the trigger on this version was that it had in it an 1890s funeral announcement for a deceased child, along with three hair clippings tucked away inside. At $50 all-in with free shipping, it was a no brainer. Cool cover? Check. Illustrations? Check. Dead people's hair? Check.

I am resisting the temptation to Google this book again and buy up every sub-$100 copy, but that's not really my style. Honestly buying an item online in this fashion is very out of the norm for me. I get very little satisfaction in buying something off eBay or someone's website, and reselling it, because anyone can do that. Sure, it takes knowing what to search for, and a whole lot of patience, but otherwise there's not much skill involved. Its much more fun finding stuff in the wild, at 5am at the antique market, or after sitting all day at a 6-hour auction for that one special find. I sort of see that as my job, as why my customers pay me - I get up at 4am every Sunday so they don't have to.

Aside from these reasons, buying up more copies of this would break one of my cardinal rules of auctioning - which is "don't chase that fire." When an item catches fire like this and brings an impressive result, there's auction magic at play. The right ingredients are there - the right bidders, who have the money at the right time, the immediacy, the newness of it, the novelty of it. That's a recipe you can't just cook up, its got to come together organically. Just because something takes off one week, doesn't mean its going to take off the next week. A few months ago I sold an antique spider web toaster for just $35, and took a $40 loss in the process. Another day, that could have been a $200 item (and it was, in a friend's auction a week later). Sometimes the ingredients for magic auction sauce come together and its delicious. Sometimes you just don't have the heat to cook it up right.

Flop: Antique Wooden Dentist Sign

Purchased $51.60, Sold $40

Bruh! I am done with antique dentist and doctor's signs. A few weeks ago I spent up and got this amazing black smaltz doctor and surgeon sign for $180, which flopped, selling for $100, and now I lost a couple schmeckles on this one. I got it for $43, plus a 20% buyer's premium, at a local online auction. I'm not quite sure why these signs aren't taking off. Obviously this one had a lot of wear, but I still think it was cool and displayed great. I think in the realm of medical antiques and oddities, real-live-used wooden signs like these are so much more interesting than, say, stainless steel medical implements, tools, dental molds, etc. A few weeks ago I sold a grouping of pretty run-of-the-mill dental molds for $30, and I find it hard to believe that this sign was only worth $10 more. If it sounds like I'm whining... okay well I am kind of whining. Next time I pick up one of these, its going on my wall.

Flop: Chalkware Bust of Woman

Consigned, Sold $60

I shouldn't really give this one the flop designation, because I think it brought about what its worth, but I was hoping that how pretty it is would carry it a little higher and justify the high cost of shipping. At the end of the day, my 30% commission on this sale was eaten up by shipping overages, so its hard not to call it a flop.

Flight: Buster Brown Enlarged Photograph

Purchased $57.50, Sold $150

The in-person auction I caught this past Wednesday is my favorite auction around, and I was really excited that they ran two weeks in a row. I normally just attend to the second session, when the dwindled crowd gathers in the basement to bid on the "junk," which more often than not includes some unexpected gems. Liza and I got there early this week, so we caught the tail end of the upstairs, higher end portion, which yielded some fun stuff. The hall is dimly lit, and we were sitting pretty far back, so I couldn't really see this Buster Brown photo when it went up, but I heard Buster Brown, and the magic word ("dog"), so I bid blind up to $50 and won it. It's a cool photo, but I didn't really know what to expect come auction time. When it sailed easily to $150, I knew that the purchase was a wise one, and I was very happy.

Float: Optician's Kit

Purchased $69, Sold $120

Same story with this one - I bid on it pretty much blind, having never previewed it before the auction. But the runner held it up, and the auctioneer said it was an optician's kit, so I bid away, remembering the $375 the last one I had brought. Bidding stopped at $60, and with a 15% buyer's premium, I walked away with it for $69. It wasn't nearly as cool as the last one I had, having several pieces missing, and without the fun bonuses of hidden ephemera and extra optical tools. I knew it wouldn't bring the same near-$400 result, but thought it should be easy to make a few bucks. Bidding stopped at $120, which I was totally happy with, and I am sure my buyer is too, because I think there's still some room to make a little dough on this if they decide to resell.

Flight: Lot of 7 Ancient Coins

Purchased $34.50, Sold $250

Same deal again, I bid totally blind on these. And this time I really mean it. I had NO idea what I was bidding on when these came up at the in-person auction. I couldn't see these tiny things for the life of me, but they sounded cool, and are different from my usual fare. But I know fuck all (pardon me) about coins, so I thought this one could go either way. Just because they sold for $250 doesn't mean I am going to go out chasing more coins, but I might be more inclined to pick some up if a cool opportunity presents itself.

Flight: Tintype of Nuns

Purchased $10, Sold $155

The bidding on this one made me really nervous. For a good while the bid stopped at $15 and just kind of hung there. After a little poking and prodding from me, it picked up and launched into the stratosphere, stopping at an impressive $155. I got this from a dealer I buy from almost every week at my local antique market, and at an investment of $10, I would have been in the black even if bidding really had stopped at $15. Obviously, I'm much happier with the reality.

Other Items of Note

Float: Alabaster Dante Plaque; Consigned, Sold $70

Flight: Giant Cow Photo; Purchased $15, Sold $65

Flight: Lot of Mixed Paper Signs; Purchased $5, Sold $60

Flop: Antique Brass Dog Statue; Purchased $15, Sold $16

Float: Painted Tile of Baby Crying; Purchased $10, Sold $30

Flight: Photo of Naval Parade; Purchased $15, Sold $50

Float: Plastic Halloween Pumpkin; Purchased $20, Sold $50

Flight: Huge Lot of Tobacco Cards in Binder; Purchased $25, Sold $80

Float: Green Clown Lamp; Purchased $25, Sold $45

Flight: Gold Filled Spectacles; Purchased $5, Sold $55

Float: Small Pharaoh's Horses Print; Purchased $20, Sold $65

Flop: Lot of 7 Antique Christmas Postcards with Santa; Purchased $10, Sold $25

Float: Anatomically Correct (Incorrect?) Cast Iron Frog (It had a dick); Purchased $20, Sold $45

Flop: Tintype of Men Smoking; Purchased $10, Sold $10

Flop: Lot of 1930s Disney Pinocchio Paper Cut Outs; Purchased $15, Sold $15

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