Bella Fontana

A weekly column about life in Bellefonte, PA, reprinted from the Centre Daily Times

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Auction attendees are filled with patience, passion

All I need to hear as I approach a sale site is the amplified monotone of the auctioneer and my adrenaline level goes into overdrive. Auction fever is in my blood.

My mother started taking me to sales when I was quite small, and she would always stay 'til the end when the box lots were knocked down. I must have learned something about patience then, because I have sat through heat and hunger on uncomfortable chairs for hours waiting for a particular item to come up.

Some sales stand out for the record prices they bring in. One summer day in 1991, I watched as men from Roan's Auction Gallery in Cogan Station loaded their van in front of Dr. Paul Corman's house next to the library. Catching a glimpse of his collection of Americana, I knew this would be a great sale -- and it was. A painted blanket chest went for $22,000, a shield-back side chair for $14,000, and a decorated 1816 birth certificate for $3,100.

I bought an art deco clock that didn't work, testing the first rule of auctions: Everything is sold "as is."

A three-day sale at the Knorr estate in Stormstown in 1999 was so big it attracted a TV crew. I watched a suit of Japanese armor go for $10,000 and a ceramic frog go up to $3,000 until a bidder came out of nowhere and ran it up to $4,200 before disappearing into the crowd.

Another rule of the auction: Don't get into a bidding war.

I arrived at the Struble sale in Zion last summer intending to take a look at a Stickley corner-cupboard listed in the sale bill. After finding my way to Zion Back Road in the rain and walking down a muddy lane, I was too late for the furniture preview and, unfortunately, did not return the next day to see the cupboard go for $390,000, a figure that took even the auctioneers completely by surprise. Word traveled around town faster than speeders trying to beat the light at Allegheny and Linn.

Buyers are well educated these days. Online auctions, "Antiques Roadshow" and more books on collecting than you can shake an ivory-topped walking stick at have made experts out of everyone. They know their apple-butter stirrers from their butter paddles, their spongeware from their spatterware, their dough trays from their dry sinks.

Which brings up the third rule of auctions: Do your homework.