Going Once, Going Twice: Bidding With Your Head So You Don’t Lose Your Shirt
by Marjorie Dorfman

Why do people go to auctions? What vicarious thrill rushes up their spine when they find that one of a kind thing that simply cannot be ignored? Where it will fit in your house scheme or how you will wear it or use it is never worthy of consideration. Read on for some advice from someone whose spine has sustained many an auction thrill.

An auction is a place where you buy what you never thought you wanted at a price you never thought you’d pay.   
– The Dorfman Archives

Auctions are an exhilarating experience. For those of you who haven’t yet been to one, I recommend it highly. There is nothing tantamount to the thrill of finding something you didn’t even know you wanted and buying it for either next to nothing or what you would have spent on a week’s worth of groceries. Some auctions are costly even to attend; I paid twenty dollars for the catalogue featuring items from the estate of James Cagney. Even though I loved being that close to one of my favorite actor’s things, I couldn’t afford even one cleat from the tap shoes he wore in Yankee Doodle Dandy. (They went for about three hundred bucks, if I recall correctly.) Most auctions, however, are free to attend and like Will Rogers and his feelings about all men, I’ve never been to one that I haven’t liked and/or spent more money than I should have.

I can be found most Saturday mornings at a local auction, telling myself that I do not need and have absolutely no place for the treasure that I have just uncovered and cannot possibly live without. If you collect anything at all or are even considering such a pastime, the chances are you will find whatever you are or are not looking for at an auction, if you look hard enough. My problem (among others) is that I collect almost everything (even collectors). My madness ranges from the ridiculous to the more ridiculous, and includes: miniature animal figurines, old tins, first editions, porcelain cats sleeping, monkeys seeing, hearing and speaking no evil and memorabilia about Abraham Lincoln.

But alas, things do not end there. If they did, I might be considered normal even by asylum standards. Every Saturday I contemplate a new collection. The diversity of choices knows no bounds. I have seen everything from an orchestra composed of six stuffed goats to a lifetime collection of toilet plungers from every decade of the century. You wouldn’t believe what some people would pay for a plunger that might have unclogged Rudolph Valentino’s toilet. I wonder how one would go about authenticating such an item and finding a tasteful way to display such a treasure in one’s home!

But it is the auction game and how to play it that is the subject at hand. How does one bid for treasure amid other pirates without appearing too anxious and paying too much? The answer is, very carefully. Do not speak with your hands while bidding. The auctioneer might mistake your enthusiasm about making a point for a bid to the next dollar. Pay close attention to what is going on around you. I once bought a porcelain hat because I was busy gossiping with a sex change operation person and thought the auctioneer said "porcelain cat" which is, of course, one of the things I collect. Memorize the location of the item you desire. I once bought a brooch when I was really interested in the one lying next to it. If you are short as I am, or petite as they say in polite society, and you don’t land a spot directly in front of the action, you might find yourself bidding on that which you think you see. Mirages have their place among camels and Bedouins in the Sahara, but not in my house. There, atop my bedroom dresser, a stuffed pig with sunglasses in a bikini sits under an umbrella and asks me why.

All auctions have different rules. Mine permits the bidding on one item, or more, from a box lot once the auctioneer has reached that particular box. Everything is sold by lot number and there can be anywhere from one to a hundred items covered by a single number. To alter that arrangement by placing a desired item in another box or within another lot number is a grand faux pas no-no boo-boo. You can, however, bid on a single item by giving it to the auctioneer who will then hold it up for all potential bidders to see. Herein lies the rub and two schools of thought. For those who might not have not noticed the item before, a new and unwanted attention may be brought to it in this fashion, thereby increasing the amount of bidders and, inevitably, the price. On the other hand, if you conceal what you really want in a box with a million other things that you don’t want, you may get your item very cheaply in addition to everything else in the box which you didn’t want in the first place. The choice can only be yours. I have found that both ways work and don’t work, so what more can I say!

It is very important to come before the bidding starts and view all of the items that will be sold. Usually, such a procedure occurs the hour before the action begins. Be there! Someone I know arrived late once and paid handsomely for a sterling silver flask from the Civil War without examining it closely. When he got it home, he filled it with some water and discovered three holes in its bottom (from Gettysburg or Shiloh, he couldn’t be certain). His single claim to fame now however is that he owns the world’s most expensive water pistol!

As they say in the casinos, bet with your head and not above it. Just pretend you’re at the Roulette table in Atlantic City and you’ll do fine. Remember that it’s your hat and your shirt. Keep one on your head and the other on your back and go with the flow (hat on head, shirt on back, in case you forgot the order). Who knows? If you play your cards right, you may be the next proud owner of a six-piece stuffed goat orchestra or maybe something else that you can’t even identify. It really doesn’t matter, just as long as you enjoyed the thrill of getting it for the price you sort of wanted to pay! Have fun!

Did you know . . .

Copyright 2003