Auction Post Mortem for Thursday 6/20/2024 - Flops, Floats, and Flights

Auction Post Mortem for Thursday 6/20/2024 - Flops, Floats, and Flights

Watch the auction here. 

I am way late getting this blog post going, because I have been chasing the most annoying fly I have ever met around my house. This thing is so obnoxious I would happily welcome back the two bats we had in the house earlier this week if it meant they would eat this persistent pest. Ok scratch that - I kid you not, as I was writing that last sentence the fly landed right on my computer tower in front of me, and met its end. Ok, now we can get on with it...

I went to the first in-person auction I have been to in what feels like weeks, if not months, this past weekend. I was mostly there to support the auctioneer, a friend in the southern NH antiques community, and thought I might walk away with a couple cool things. When I was previewing the merch, I thought "eh, there isn't really anything I want" - except for a very handsome Poe book. Well when the bidding got going, and the opening bids were dropping, and bids weren't coming in, I found myself compulsively throwing my card up. I was bidding on all kinds of stuff I had initially had no intention of buying, and the competing bidders were barely putting up a fight. At the end of the two-and-a-half hour auction, I had run up a $700, full-page long bill. I didn't necessarily get a whole lot of stuff in my usual wheelhouse, but I did get some nice, sellable merchandise for extremely good prices. The way I see it, if the prices are right, and I don't buy it, its like losing money.

There were moments during this in-person auction of my buddy's where I couldn't help but be audibly incredulous that people weren't bidding more on stuff. And I am finding that my ability to hide that same incredulity in my own auction is... not great. An elder auctioneer wrote me after last week's auction, and gave me the helpful advice that when I am auctioneering, I'm on the mic, and I need to leave my personal feelings out of it. I know this both instinctively, and from experience - I've seen a plenty of social-media based auctions fizzle from the bad attitudes and hurt feelings of their hosts, in addition to a lack of quality merchandise. I think my attitude tonight was an improvement over last week's - I mean I was really cranky last week - but I still know that my sometimes irritated intonation is definitely not pleasant for people who come to my shows to have a good time.

Looking back at my attendee list from the Thursday night auction from this time in February, I see that 56% of the people who signed into that auction also signed into tonight's show. That's actually pretty good, but notably 44% of the signed in attendees of that show did not attend tonight's. I mean there could be a million reasons for that, but I need to make sure that I am not one of those reasons. I have no education in business whatsoever, so I could just be talking out the ass, but I'm pretty confident that customer retention is one of the most important things in any business. And I'm pretty sure there was an episode of The Office that talked about how much more expensive getting new customers is, relative to retaining existing customers. Further, there is a social aspect of my relationship with my customers that is important to me - I feel a real kinship with a lot of you, because you appreciate the same wacky things that I do. Many of you have become friends over the years, and I really enjoy keeping an eye out for stuff I know you'll love. And hey I'm pretty good at that - I would say 90% of the time I buy something with a particular buyer in mind, they at least get in the bidding. That's always extremely gratifying.

Anyways, I've got this kind of constant, low-frequency anxiety about what I call the health of the auction. There are a lot of unscientific factors that go into this un-quantifiable, abstract notion of what that means in my head. An obvious one is how much is stuff selling for. Another is, is my customer acquisition keeping pace with natural, expected customer turnover. Another that I mentioned a couple weeks ago is how much profit am I generating for every dollar I spend. I've also got a whole bunch of other little metrics I track - Average Order Value, Cost Per Lot, Profit Per Lot, etc. I guess I am just saying this to say that: I have a lot of anxiety about the health of my auction, because, for as much as a 33-year-old degenerate can have a "life's work," this is mine. It's very personal to me. There was a time in my life where my self-worth was connected with how good my grades were; another time when it was connected to how good my moped (and later my motorycle) was running; when I had the store in Somerville, it was connected to that; and now it's connected to this.

Haha okay, I feel like this is getting way too personal and vulnerable for a blog post about an antiques auction. I'm just trying to articulate that if I seem incredulous, frustrated, annoyed, whatever, that something isn't bring the money I expected, or the money it did a couple weeks ago, or a year ago, its all this that's going through my head. And I am committing this to words so that I can say: I gotta work on that. Let's keep it posi, fun, light, and all that good stuff. I have the most incredible bidders, customers, and friends in all of the folks that come to my auctions, and I am so grateful for you all.

Okay, that's enough jibber jabber about the uncomfy interconnectedness of my professional life and my emotional life. A couple quick housekeeping notes! I have decided that I am no longer going to list what I paid for things in these blog posts. That's not to say that I may not at times reveal those numbers, if it's relevant to a story I am telling, or a comment I want to make about the business. But I am not going to list them on every item. Transparency is important to me, but I think that that level of transparency, just for its own sake, may not be doing me any favors. If you want to see my costs, you can still do that by becoming a "subscriber" on my Instagram - it's $2.99 a month, and you get a complete price list after every auction.

I am also toying with the idea of retiring the whole "flop, float, flight" thing. I don't want buyers that read these blog posts to think that just because I call the item they bought a flop, I am ungrateful for their business or their bids; it's merely an observation about how I expected that item to perform based on market prices, historical results in my own auction, and, most importantly, how cool I thought it was. I also don't want someone who bought an item that gets the flight designation to think, "Damn, I really fucked up and overpaid for that!" That's not the case at all, its just that sometimes I underestimate just how much my crew is going to love something, or how much of the market value of an item I might be able to realize, among all the other factors that make something shoot into the stratosphere. For now let's stick with it.

There's a gazillion more thoughts and observations I want to share, but eh, let's get on with it:

Flight: Grouping of Six Victorian Casket Plaques of the Deceased Infant Children of Patrick and Mary Murphy; Consigned, Sold $735

Grouping of Six Victorian Casket Plaques of the Deceased Infant Children of Patrick and Mary Murphy

These were sold in two groups of three, with choice of any of the three plaques given to the highest bidder. The first round saw a high bid of $90, and the winning bidder purchased all three plaques. The second round saw a high bid of $155, and the same bidder purchased all three plaques. Ultimately, the collection of six plaques stayed together, and I am beyond happy about that. Thanks to everyone who bid on these!

Float: Post Mortem Ambrotype of Man in Coffin; Consigned, Sold $140

Post Mortem Ambrotype of Man in Coffin

I think its pretty clear that the condition of this ambrotype held it back a little bit. I expected a result between $150 and $200, but did think there was potential for it to really take off, given the nature and composition of the image. $140 was just shy of that, but not enough to call this a flop.

Float: Peek-A-Boo Photo Case with Two Hard Images; Purchased, Sold $140

Float: Thermoplastic Children and Pets Photo Case with Four Hard Images; Purchased, Sold $220

Peek-A-Boo Photo Case children with pets photo case

I have a couple bidders who have really been keeping the photography alive the past couple weeks. There have been a few really awesome images, or in this case, the cases are really what the stole the show, that would have totally flopped if these two or three people weren't duking it out. I mean, I guess I basically just described an auction. But anyways - thank you guys for not letting these flop, and showing the love!

Flight: Collection of Antique Stanhope Items; Sold $175

Collection of Antique Stanhope Items

I bought these in a lot, bundled with a number of other items. One single piece - the pen - sold for $45, while the grouping of the remaining items sold for $130. The very first time I had a stanhope - which was also the very first time I learned they existed - it brought well over $100. Given that result, you'd think I would be underwhelmed with what these brought. However, I think the initial excitement of that item has faded, and now most of my crew knows these are out there. Also, with a greater supply, naturally there will be a lower price. I also got a great price on the bundle I bought these with, and this result more than covered my costs.

Flight: Binder of Trade Cards; Sold $100

Float: Identified John Ward Mourning Lithograph; Consigned, Sold $180

Identified John Ward Mourning Lithograph

Float: Blank Mourning Lithograph; Consigned, Sold $150

Blank Mourning Lithograph

Float: George Washington Mourning Lithograph; Consigned, Sold $150

George Washington Mourning Lithograph

There is a world in which I would give a mourning lithograph selling for under $200 an automatic flop, but between these consignments, and others I have found in the wild this year, I think my audience is pretty saturated in this stuff. Many of the bidders who wanted one for their collection or decor have gotten one, and may be out of the bidding pool. Others, given so many choices, can be more discerning with their bid. These results were just about what I expected to see. I had been buying these outright from my consignor for $100 a pop, and with this result they end up with a bit more than they would have with that arrangement. Let's see if we can keep the mojo going and bring some more in.

Flop: The Common Lot Dying Daughter Mourning Print; Consigned, Sold $110

The Common Lot Dying Daughter Mourning Print

This is the sole flop of this group, but I think it was ultimately a condition issue, as the print had some obvious foxing and discoloration. That said, this was a notably rare Currier print, and quite a poignant one, so I expected the scarcity and emotion of it to really launch this thing. I expected this would be the highest grossing of the four; I certainly didn't expect it would be the least.


Float: Dante's Inferno Illustrated by Gustave Dore; Consigned, Sold $250

Dante's Inferno Illustrated by Gustave Dore

This was the coolest of them, and the illustrations are honestly bonkers, so I am very excited we got this a good result.

Float: Milton's Paradise Lost Illustrated by Gustave Dore; Consigned, Sold $130

Milton's Paradise Lost Illustrated by Gustave Dore

I mean this one sold for almost half what Inferno sold for, but it is also half as cool. Looking at comp prices, I would say we were right on the money for this one in  terms of what people are realistically selling them for. I mean sure, there are a couple of sellers with a copy on eBay hoping a sucker shells out 600 bones, but there are plenty of examples priced more moderately.

Flop: Dante's Purgatory and Paradise Illustrated by Gustave Dore

Dante's Purgatory and Paradise Illustrated by Gustave Dore

Don't ask me man, I have no idea why this didn't sell for more. It was at least partially due to a connection error for one of our bidders, but more-so I think it comes down to condition. That was kind of a theme tonight - things being held back by condition. Personally for me, condition isn't a huge issue, but I know it is for many. That said, I was hoping my anecdote about parting out these highly graphic, highly sought after illustrations for many hundreds of dollars might get the juices flowing a little better, but no such luck. Same with:

Flop: The Pilgrim's Progress Book; Consigned, Sold $60

This book had the exact same color lithograph in it that I sold framed a few weeks ago for over $300. But for some reason only brought $60. That was a little confusing for me, and this was definitely one of the moments in the night where I had trouble hiding my incredulity. Auctions are weird man!

Flight: Bible Gallery Illustrated by Gustave Dore; Consigned, Sold $80

Bible Gallery Illustrated by Gustave Dore

Okay, it might seem weird to give this a flight, but its my same kind of thinking with the mourning prints. There were a higher number of Dore, and other, illustrated books tonight, so there are going to be diminishing returns. The way I expected that to play out was to have this Bible Gallery book, the most common, least sought after of the grouping, sell way under the money. Instead, it brought just about the same, if not a couple dollars more, than the last time I had it. I'm calling that a flight, this time around!

Float: Studio CDV of Sleeping Little Girl in Velvet Frame; Consigned, Sold $50

Studio CDV of Sleeping Little Girl in Velvet Frame

Flight: Taxidermy Caiman Alligator Thing; Purchased; Sold $70

Taxidermy Caiman Alligator Thing

Flight: Irish Folk Tales Book; Purchased, Sold $52

Flop: Large Ephemera Lot with Letter About Arrested Teen; Purchased, Sold $35

Float: Celluloid Dresser Box; Purchased, Sold $30

Celluloid Dresser Box

Float: Boston Terrier Dog Photo Cut Out; Purchased, Sold $36

Boston Terrier Dog Photo Cut Out

Float: Pitbull Head Pot Metal Match Box Holder; Purchased, Sold $34

Pitbull Head Pot Metal Match Box Holder

Float: Vintage Apartment for Rent Sign; Purchased, Sold $30

Vintage Apartment for Rent Sign

Float: Fright Factory Maker-Pak Toy; Purchased, Sold $45

Fright Factory Maker-Pak Toy

Float: Large Halloween Lot with Treat Bags and More; Purchase, Sold $55

Large Halloween Lot with Treat Bags and More

I am a little tempted to give this lot a flop, just because there was a lot of quantity for the money, and I see people selling these bags in small groups or individually all the time. I think if I took the time to do that, I could probably have made a whole lot more moolah. But, and I think I said this during the auction, I am an auctioneer now, and that sometimes means moving a larger volume of inventory at lower prices with the eye on the total at the end of the night. So, let's float this puppy.

Flight: Tintypes; Purchased, Sold Individually for a Total of $174

tintype of little boy standing next to the dog statue

If it weren't for last week's auction, I probably would have just given these a float. But it seemed like last week I couldn't give tintypes away. I mean I don't really know what happened last week, it was just a disaster, but I think I'm ready to laugh about it. Anyways, pretty strong results on these, especially the very interesting one with the little boy standing next to the dog statue, which brought $50 on its own!

Float: Pair of Black Velvet Hand Fans; Purchased, Sold $34

Pair of Black Velvet Hand Fans

Float: Coffin-Shaped Wooden Box; Purchased, Sold $42

Coffin-Shaped Wooden Box

Flight: Parody on Patience Railroad Related Illustrated Children's Book, 1883; Purchased, Sold $45

I had already written out flight before I looked this book up. I gave it a flight because I got it really cheap in a lot of books that has already paid for itself, but also because railroad related stuff isn't always of interest to my peeps, so I kind of thought this would just pass. So, I gave it a flight at the $45 sale price. Then I looked it up... and the only other antique copy I can find for sale online is this one for $425 plus ship on Abe Books. Lol, well, I already gave it a flight, not taking it back now. Hey, my buyer got a real score, and I made a couple dollars of my on. It's all groovy.

Float: 1764 Prince James Bible with Provenance; Purchased, Sold $40

Float: Set of Three Catalogues of Ancient Egyptian Burial Textiles; Purchased, Sold $40

Float: Lot of 9 Cased Hard Images; Purchased, Sold $190

Flop: Oakland Stoves and Ranges, Salem, MA Advertisement with Dog; Purchased, Sold $16

Oakland Stoves and Ranges, Salem, MA Advertisement with Dog

Flop: Foresters Badge with Shaking Hands Motif; Purchased, Sold $22

Omg the fly's buddy has come for revenge and is buzzing endlessly around my head... I'm gonna take care of him, and then head to bed. See you all next week!

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.