Auction Post Mortem for Thursday 3/7/2024 - Flops, Floats, and Flights

Auction Post Mortem for Thursday 3/7/2024 - Flops, Floats, and Flights

Watch the auction here.

When I woke up Thursday morning, I hopped right into the virtual waiting room to get tickets to Sea Hear Now Festival in Asbury Park, New Jersey to see the Almighty Boss Man, Bruce Springsteen, perform alongside Jersey natives the Gaslight Anthem. It turned into a three hour nightmare of refreshing pages, getting kicked out of carts that wouldn't let me check out, and commiserating with fellow FOMO sufferers on the fest's Instagram page. Ultimately tickets sold out before I was able to snag a couple, which put me into a funk all day long that I couldn't quite kick. I was hoping that a stacked auction line up would be just the boost I needed to get me out of it... and maybe get me some money to pay the exorbitant fees of the secondhand ticket sites.

My high hopes were in jeopardy for the first few lots of the auction. Some sluggish results on Halloween items, a break-even on the highlighted skull Flemish art pipe holder, a disappointing result on a consigned postcard of a pile of skulls, and then the total bummer of a $40 loss on an inkwell I thought would soar. Was it a bad idea to run an auction in competition with Papa Joe's State of the Union address? That's what I was thinking. And then, all of a sudden, the George Catlin print of wolves attacking a buffalo caught absolute fire and took off... and from there it felt like this auction was a banger.

Last night was a lesson in my auction mantra, which is "it all comes out in the wash." For every inkwell that I lose money on, there inevitably ends up being a sleeper item that takes off and picks up the slack. After hosting well over 100 of these shows, you'd think I'd be able to hold this wisdom in the moment and not be ruminating to myself "I'm never doing another auction" as $2 bids slowly trickle in on something I thought would bring upwards of $500. Its easy to chuckle at the dramatic pessimism in retrospect, but its always a little debilitating in the moment.

I've got to remember to trust the process and focus on the auction results as a whole, and not get caught up on the successes and failure of individual items. And of course, at the end of the night, we blew past what I had hoped to bring in for the evening, and succeeded in keeping up the momentum we built in last week's show. Doing a virtual barn sale Wednesday was also a huge boost - I would do one of those every week if I had the inventory. Now it's Friday, and I don't have a single thing lined up for next week. Time to hit the road, get hunting, and try to do it all again. Here are some Flops, Floats, and Flights.

Flop: Bronze French Devil Inkwell

Purchased $250, Sold $210

Let's just get this one out of the way... When I saw this inkwell at a fancy once-a-month antique show at a hotel convention center in Massachusetts, I was marveling at it like an untouchable museum relic. Its the kind of item that I really want to be dealing in, but is always out of reach when I ask the price. The dealer that had this inkwell had a print out from a fancy European antique website with it, and they had it listed at 580 €, or about $635. Whenever I see an eBay print out in an antique store, its usually to justify an inflated price. I figured the same would be the case here, and expected the dealer to tell me in the $500 to $750 range when I asked the price. So when he said $275, I lit up like a Christmas tree. That price seemed totally within striking distance. I offered $225. He met me in the middle and I ultimately nabbed it for $250. I get a little nervous spending that kind of dough on stuff, but I thought I would have no trouble whatsoever getting that money back, and maybe even doubling it.

I'm not really sure why it didn't catch fire like I expected it to. There didn't seem to be much enthusiasm from bidders come auction time, though there were plenty of comments attesting to its beauty. Bidding ultimately stopped at $210, $40 short of my break even point. I'm not saying that $210 isn't a lot of money - I know it is to me - but relative to the amount of money some things have brought in my auction and others, it fell short of expectations. I think it could be that the devil figure on this inkwell was more of a gargoyle like demon than the higher-concept Satan devil character. It could also just be that its an inkwell, and because most people today don't use inkwells, its really just a decorative item of limited use.

Honestly, I think I'd buy this inkwell again, even at the $250 price I paid. The ingredients just weren't there last night for it to really catch on and catapult to where it maybe should have. In the end, it went to a great customer who I know is SUPER excited to get it, and that makes me really happy. And, like every little gamble-gone-wrong, it all comes out in the wash.

That said, the loss made me a little nervous to put up the Pharaoh's Horses painting, which cost me $100 more, but...

Float: 19th Century Pharaoh's Horses Oil on Canvas Painting

Purchased $350, Sold $450

After the disappointment of the inkwell, I wasn't sure if I could afford another hit on a spendy item. My thinking was that if the bids weren't there to get me back my $250 on the inkwell, it was unlikely it was the kind of night that was going to return me my $350 on the Pharoah's Horses painting. So I sort of mentioned, in passing, feeling a bit defeated, that I would open the Horses at the $350 I paid if there was interest. I really hate to open things with high start bids like that, as its essentially a reserve. I think it sucks the fun out of the bidding, and I prefer a true auction where we see where things go without artificially inflating the prices. That said, for my own sanity, I needed to adjust real time last night. But I was super happy when I saw that $350 bid pop up, and we were off to the races.

I didn't expect this painting to be a big money maker, and really bought it as more of a draw to get people in the room. Also because I don't think I've ever found a PH in the wild and not bought it. I found this one shelved high in the booth of the show runner of the antique show I got the inkwell at. I was a little crushed when I asked the price, and the owner told me $365. Yowch, the last one like this I purchased only cost me $150, so this seemed steep. I did a rare thing, which was to walk away. But as I walked around the antique show, I kept looking over my shoulder to see if it was still there. It was so high up on that shelf, and the colors so bold and beautiful, that it was like a North Star you could see anywhere in the room. After doing a couple laps in the show, I returned, and ultimately bought the painting for $350. I was out of cash, so I had to write a check, which just isn't as much fun as the immediacy of dollar bills, which are a lot easier to forget you've spent.

I didn't think there was a whole lot of room left to make money on the painting, but thought it had potential to bring in the $500 range. It ultimately brought just shy of that at $450. Typically if I am going to spend as much as $350 on something, I'd want to make more than a $100 profit, but I was still really happy with the result on the painting.

As I look over my numbers compared to this time last year, I notice that I am spending considerably more purchasing inventory for my auctions, but that my increase in revenue and profitability (which are indeed up) is not proportional to the increase in spending. Diminishing returns, and all that. Still, it is really exciting to be in a position where I feel a little more comfortable taking some risks on more expensive items, as I continue to try to push the overall quality of my picks.

Flight: The Two Paths Temperance Chromolithograph

Purchased $60, Sold $510

There are flops, like the inkwell, which I lost $40 on; there are floats, like the Pharaoh's Horses, which was profitable, but with slim margins; and then there are flights, like this temperance litho, which was a total sleeper. I purchased this print unframed at my local antique show for $60. I had just gotten a different print of almost identical dimensions at an auction for my personal collection, so that print got evicted from its frame. The personal collection can wait.

I almost skipped this print altogether last night. I just had a suspicion that it wasn't going to catch on, and that my margins would be so slim they'd be wiped out by the shipping costs of the somewhat large and deep frame. Plus, I'm straight edge, and love antique temperance stuff, so I thought maybe it would end up in my personal collection after all. But during a brief table scan, I had multiple people request this litho, so figured we'd see where it goes.

I did NOT expect it would launch into the stratosphere like it did, bringing a whopping $510! In retrospect, I'm not surprised, because I just think I had the right people in the room. The subject matter and overall look of this print is definitely appealing to the right buyer, but I am not sure that appeal is massive and universal. I am glad I had a few people who appreciated it as much as I did, and was obviously very pleased with the windfall result of this item.

Flight: George Catlin Bison Print

Purchased $30, Sold $315

This was a good night for lithographs. Like the The Two Paths print, this one really took off come bidding time. I expected the gory, graphic subject matter would land it between the $100 and $200 mark, so the $310 result was most welcome, especially against a $30 purchase. I thought it might be held back by its modern re-framing, or by the fact that this kind of western themed stuff doesn't show up in my auction very often. Maybe I'll need to rethink that.

Flop: Flemish Art Pyrography Skulls Pipe Stand

Purchased $90, Sold $90

In this week's Auction Highlights I talked about how a dealer friend had tucked this away in a paper bag for me at the antique show. I didn't hesitate when he told me he wanted $90 for it, because its easily the coolest piece of pyrography I have ever had. That said, I would have been much more comfortable at a lower price point. I thought there was potential for it to really catch fire in the bidding, but wondered if the fact that it was made by the Flemish Art company and isn't a one-off by an unknown folk artist might hold it back. I think there might just be an upper limit for what pyrography can bring, and maybe we found that this time around? I thought $90 was a floppish result, but maybe I was overly optimistic. However, this ended up selling to a first time customer, which I was really happy about! I am always down to get something cool into the hands of a first timer, and hope the deal on this will make him a returning customer!

Flop: Halloween Stuff

It was kind of a weak night for Halloween stuff. Vintage and antique Halloween is one of my favorite categories of collectibles, and definitely a crowd pleaser - especially around Halloween time. Even in the "off-season" (remember, its always Halloween, Christmas, and your birthday at MHV), Halloween stuff typically does pretty well for me. This week's stuff fell short of where we usually end up. No matter, I'll still be on top of the Halloween goods next time I come across them. Gotta keep the spirit of Halloween alive!

I purchased three Halloween postcards at an antique show for $85 for the lot, and the trio grossed $131.

I broke even on a relatively common tin-litho Halloween noisemaker from US Metal Toy Manufacturing Company, which I purchased and sold for $25. Another Halloween noisemaker was consigned to me, and I think it fell short at $20.

Flight: Victorian Cased Photography

Purchased in a lot for $260; Sold for $717

I watched this whole lot of photography come out of a bin at the antique show, and overheard a friend of mine buy it for $200. I went up to him and bought them off of him a minute later for $260, and was happy to get a quick profit in his pocket, and some great photos into my auction. The more basic of the lot sold for $20 to $50, but there were a few noticeable standouts.

Zouave Soldier Cased Photo; Sold $180

1/16th Plate Landscape Portrait Daguerreotype of Woman; Sold $205

Ambrotype of Handsome Man; Sold $85

Other Items of Note

Flight: Girl with Kitty Kat Reverse Painting (Probably From a Two-Part Mirror); Purchased $20, Sold $100

Flop: Dissolving View Book; Purchased in Lot, Sold $25

Float: Edgar Allan Poe Prose Tales, 1903; Purchased $15, Sold $78

Flight: Blue Velvet Shoe Pin Cushion; Purchased $10, Sold $50

Flight: Pair of Cabinet Cards Photographed by Mrs. Sam Radcliffe; Purchased $5, Sold $41

Flight: Tallest and Smallest People Cabinet Card; Purchased in Album, Sold $103

Float: Horvath Little People Cabinet Card; Purchased in Album, Sold  $45

Flight: Copper Pheasant Taxidermy; Purchased $40, Sold $160

Flight: Megalodon Tooth; Purchased $20, Sold $195

Float: Worn Hasko Mystic Board; Purchased $20, Sold $50

Float: Ornate Cologne Bottle; Purchased $35, Sold $75

Flop: Enamel MD Doctor's License Plate Badge; Purchased $70, Sold $75

Float: Diana Embroidery Thread Box and Contents; Purchased $20, Sold $38

Float: 1930s Mickey Mouse Walt Disney Mini Playing Cards; Consigned, Sold $35

Flight: Vintage Creepy Santa Photos, Pair; Consigned, Sold $75


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