I'm thinking about making a new blog post at the end of every month highlighting the top five highest grossing items for that month from my weekly auctions. Regardless of if it becomes a regular thing or not, this is the first of those posts!
Honorable Mention - Spirit Daughter Print
Purchased $95, Sold $295
I am including this print first, even though it didn't quite make the top five, just because I wanted to highlight it. It was, in fact, the sixth highest grossing item this month, so let's call it a bonus.
It's a rare spectral engraving titled "Spirit Daughter." It shows a ghostly bride embracing the shoulders of a forlorn pianist. Below the image, text reads, "Mine is the real Life, Mamma! Your's is but the Shadow!!" Is the bride the spirit of a daughter returned to taunt her mother for her mundanity? Or does she represent the pianist's earlier self, returned with a warning about the fleeting nature of youth? The meaning of this image is as elusive as it's source.
I got this from my favorite dealer at my weekly winter antique show, someone who I buy from throughout the year at various shows around New England and New Hampshire. Having an ongoing relationship with a supplier like this worked in my favor - he knew I would like this print, so he set it aside for me at the show. I purchased it from him for $95. I think he might have squeezed a couple extra dollars out of me because I told him outright I would buy it before he even showed it to me, but I was still happy to pay up.
Its an interesting print, because despite having plenty of information on it to research, there is exactly zero information about it online. It was "entered according to an act of Congress at Library in Washington D.C. by Mr. And Mrs. AL HATCH of Astoria, Long Island, N.Y., February 1st, 1888." The engraver's name is signed in the lower right, A. Demarest, Sc N.Y." With so much to go on, one would think this would be an easy work to track down. However, other than some family records from the Hatch family and some calling cards engraved by little-known engraver Alex Demarest, I can't find any other examples of this work.
Ok, on with the actual list...
#5 - Snow Funeral Home Sign, from Winchendon, Massachusetts
Purchased $220, Sold $325
Double sided, cast aluminum or other lightweight cast metal.
This is another item I got from a dealer I buy from on a weekly basis at my local antique show. He is slow to roll out his items, as he spends the opening hour of the show shopping the other dealers. When I looked over at his table, I saw this single item sitting there. I just about catapulted myself across the room to grab it, and asked for a price as he was bringing more stuff in. His initial asking price was $250, which was a bit of a punch in the gut because I was hoping it would be closer to the $100 range. Still, I knew that even if I didn't make much money on this sign, it would be a great center piece for the week's show. I offered $200 for the sign, and he said he has to get a little more out of it. We settled on $220 and the sign was mine. I thought there was a chance I could lose some money on it, but bidding went well, and the sign sold for $325.
Snow Funeral Home is still in operation in Winchendon, Massachusetts today, though now it is not known as Stone-Ladeau Funeral Home. It was originally opened in 1875 by Charles Snow, whose son Richard would later take over the enterprise. The F. Richard Ladeau listed on this sign took the reigns in 1958, and this sign is likely from not long after.
#4 - Optometrist's Lens Sample Set
Purchased $201.25, Sold $375
I have been seeing these optometry sets around for as long as I have been dealing antiques, but had never purchased one until this one. They are usually prohibitively expensive when I see them out in the wild. My hangup with them is that they take up a lot of space to display and are a bit cumbersome. I found myself asking, "once a collector buys it, what do they do with it?" Still, they're aesthetically quite attractive, and even though there are stranger medical oddities to be had, I was excited to get one.
I got this one at an in-person walk-around auction in my area. Typically items at this auction sell for under $100, but I had a little foresight into what this set would sell for. During preview, I overheard a gentleman leave a left bid of $175 with the auctioneer on this one and $150 on a similar kit next to it. I said to myself at the time that that would price me out, but in the moments before bidding, I made the split decision to take a chance on it. I ended up getting it for the $175, plus a 15% buyer's premium, which brought the total to $201.25.
This item came in on a Wednesday, and I hold my weekly auctions on Thursday evenings, so I had very little time to advertise it prior to my sale. I hoped that the curiosity of it would be enough to make it successful in the auction, even if I didn't get many eyes on it before the fact. Sure enough, it did well, bringing $375, though bidding was slow, as I recall. We eventually got there. It ended up going to an antique shop with a special oddities room, where its now a featured item. I hope they do well with it.
#3 - Dragon Head Furniture Legs, Lot of 4
Purchased $20, Sold $380
My home of Jaffrey, NH is home to an incredible antique store called Seaver and McLellan Antiques that would be right at home in an artsy neighborhood of New York City, so we're really lucky to have it here in rural New Hampshire. They had a tag sale this month to clear out old inventory and make room for container loads of antiques fresh in from India. This store is a sure bet to find some unique and interesting finds, so, despite over-sleeping and missing the opening hours, I hit the sale.
I came across this grouping of four furniture feet with castor wheels on them. I always say I like anything with a face on it, and each of them had a carved face, which I am calling a dragon's face here, for lack of a better identification. They were $20 for the grouping at the tag sale. I removed the wheels when I got home, and figured they would drum up some interest, being hand carved and sort of funky. I wasn't sure what a buyer might do with them, but my customers are creative, so figured they would think of something.
Well, what I call auction magic struck, and a crazy bidding war broke out come auction time. The grouping of four sold as one-lot-one-money for $380. They say something is only worth what someone is willing to pay. In that regard, I suppose you could say that these were indeed worth what they sold for. The thing is, I would be a fool to try to replicate that result. For instance, if I found an identical set of furniture feet with a heftier price tag - say $200 - I wouldn't be willing to bet my money they'd catch fire and bring nearly $400 again. Its all about who is in the auction, and if that spark of a special item ignites a battle. Its really hard to replicate, and really special. I was obviously thrilled with this result, and the customer was also very excited.
#2 - Hercules Battling Snake Cast Iron Umbrella Stand
Purchased $51.75, Sold $380
I didn't know much about this umbrella stand when I saw it in the basement walk-around portion of a local auction, I just knew that it had a snake. When people ask me what kinds of things I like to buy, I sometimes say, "anything that looks like one of my tattoos." Well, I've got more than one snake tattoo, so snakes a sure bet to get my dollars.
There were a couple of guys at this auction that wandered in from the funeral reception taking place the room over at the venue. Throughout the day, I called them the wild cards, because you had no idea what these guys were going to bid on, or what they were willing to pay for it. Most of the people at the sale were seasoned antique dealers, so this added a whole new element to the experience. Right before bidding on this umbrella stand, I was shooting the shit with one of the guys over a little tie rack I thought was cool. A second later, he was bidding against me and beat me out. All this is to say, I was very surprised when bidding on this snakely umbrella stand stopped at $45, because that same guy was eyeing it. I think he felt bad about the funky tie rack, which worked out well for me. A 15% buyer's premium brought the total cost to $51.75.
I didn't really want to ship this item, because even though cast iron is metal, it is delicate and prone to breakage. So I put this umbrella stand at my barn sale for $125, I fielded a couple questions about it, but no takers. A couple week later I decided to put it in my auction, being a little light on inventory for the week. It disassembled into four parts after all, so I figured this would ease shipping.
When I posted it to Instagram, a couple followers identified the subject as Hercules. A quick google search and I confirmed that that was likely. According to myth, Hera, the jealous wife of Zeus, sent two snakes to kill Hercules when he was still a boy. This seemed like a likely homage to that mythology. Sure enough, there are other examples online, including many different variants. I think its likely that the one I had was a later example, though still antique.
Bidding was really slow to start, and even when it reached up to around the $90-$100 range, I couldn't help but feel a little disappointed, because I thought it was cooler than that. Fortunately, it caught fire and took off to $380. It was a massive bonus that a local customer bought it, so I didn't have to ship it and risk damage.
#1 - Folk Art Odd Fellows Heart In Hand Painted Wooden Axe
Purchased $156, Sold $515
I got this incredible bit of folk art from a higher-end Americana auction that was held online in New Hampshire. Online auctions can be tricky, because you're competing with people from all over the country. The hope is that high shipping fees will keep those buyers at bay. I peppered this auction with a great many bids, but got absolutely obliterated in the bidding on most of the items. There were lots of great pieces of furniture, folk art, primitives, and the like. I ended up winning three lots, including this axe. The hammer price of the axe was $130, and a hefty 20% buyer's premium brought the total cost to $156.
I think something like this is just odd-ball enough that I was able to snag it, even in a higher end auction. With that said, its also niche enough that I thought that it might flop when I put it up for sale in my auction. When my girlfriend Liza first saw it in person, her reaction was markedly underwhelmed, which furthered my concern. Fortunately, this item had an incredible folk art charm to it, and the Odd Fellows connection made it all the more successful. I am so grateful to the Odd Fellows of yesteryear for using so much cool symbology in their lore. Still, this item had just the one symbol, so I didn't have a whole lot to talk about while it was up. I just had to hope it would speak for itself.
Bidding was furious on this item, with multiple bidders bidding up into the several hundreds. It ended up selling for $515, and was the highest grossing item for January 2024.
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There you have it - the highest grossing items for January of 2024. If anyone ever reads this, I hope you enjoyed it and found it informative. Until next month...