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One Mercantile

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How and What to Buy at Auction: A Pro’s Guide

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Lot #73: American Coin Silver Fiddle Pattern Spoons

Here Carey Maloney of M (Group), normally our Restoration correspondent, take us on a digital shopping spree to Stair Galleries forthcoming auction. 

OK – it’s my profession and my obsession.  I love Old Stuff – I’ve never been that interested in the brand new. I prefer old flatware over the same pattern new.  If something is new, I am impatient for a patina. Frankly, I’m impatient in general and real patinas come slowly…

Last week I wrote about Stair Restoration, and I would’ve given it a rest for this week because, in fact, I am not Colin Stair’s PR person.  But then I wandered onto the Stair Galleries website last night, saw there is an upcoming auction, starting March 27, and dove right into combing the online catalog.

After scrolling through maybe 500 lots, I started thinking, “Huh?” so clicked back to Home.  Indeed the sale(s) total 1330 lots, and it will take three days.  I guffawed—you know, that It Hurts, Its Funny, It Hurts, kind of laugh?  That is a lot of lots. Some of this stuff is big.  Very ambitious—I get tired just thinking about it..

But the merch is great, so it’s worth the trouble.  Fancy provenances and multiple Louis’ and Georges represented.  Plenty of Americana (with me, a little of that goes a long way. I get it—but why struggle?) plus books and paintings—a real old fashioned vast ‘general sale.’  So I feel I have a civic obligation to spread the word to the RI readers – Check Out These Auctions. 

FYI - I worked at Christie’s in my youth, and I’ve always had Zero patience for country auctions.  Way too ‘country’ for me.  Farm implements (“Let’s leave a bid—we need a plough.”), heavy, brown, boring cheap “used” furniture, mimeograph quality hunting prints—we’ve all been there.  And way too casual for me—the auctioneer will change the order of the sale on a buyer’s whim.  Noooo way. 

This brings us to a very important fact: Stair Galleries is run like a real 21st century auction house, albeit old fashioned as auctions are old fashioned businesses. (That sentence makes sense to me…You?)  Key info: they’re consummate pros.

Now – for this auction.  I’ve run up a list and will try to keep to a 20 word limit on each ‘comment’ (Hermes would say that’s about 17 too many…)

Disclaimer: I haven’t yet viewed any of this stuff in real life, so I may be way off, which is why I’m writing about next week’s auction, this week.  Trust me, always see it before you buy it, a rule even for a professional   In fact, touch it before you buy it.  I have more than one story on this subject…Expensive ‘stories’ that Hermes reminds me of when necessary.  “Did you actually touch it?”  + “Of course. Sort of” (Read: Not) = Expensive Mistake

Lot 15 OMG!  How cute is this?  (“OMG!  How cute is this?” Scared? Me too..)  But really! OMG.  Silver animals - who ever has enough?  I need a Bucellati kangaroo mouse bad.

Lot 142 “Wrestling” photos…These guys are funny!  Very gay Guest Bathroom or Powder room.

Lot 211 Celestial maps – four of them -  Perfect for an elevator. We did it years ago and always liked it.  Decorative, not overbearingly thematic, and educational.  Bone up on your Latin between floors.

Lot 401 Very site specific, this chair - -  Front hall.  I’ve always had a weakness for the form. In an ideal world all the leather can all stay.  If not, the bulk can, and I’m sure you’ll come up with a clever response to cover the irreparable bits (linen antimacassars? Very La Habana – land of great heads of hair and of hair pomades made from macassar). The little space below behind doors is perfect for a small dog.  Really. Warm and enclosed.  Cute!
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Lot 416 Great material (sharkskin – fake or real?) and good color. Useful. Portable.  Everything you want in a ‘cigarette’ table.

Lot 424 I’m a sucker for a candle stand. Sort of elegant and ‘swell’…Neat little cloven hoof sabots.

Lot 467 Mirrors!  Big (52 x 41!) White Leafy and from Florian Papp—what’s not to love?
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Lot 584 – Anything with a monkey I’ll buy.  And a monkey smoking a pipe? No brainer.  As a child I begged for a monkey.  Relentlessly.  (Reason One why I’ve never wanted children – they’d be as boring and needy/greedy as I was… See Lot 1095, far right, for yet another reason.

Lot 650 – I take it back – Not anything with a monkey.  Those eyes… Terrifying.

Lot 536 – Baroque (read: Way Old) and graphic.  Difficult (read: Impossible) to sit at, but great looking.

Lot 617 – You know, lots of Japanese stuff is very chic.  (BTW – really good news.  Naga is opening Warren Street this Spring—Naga North)

Lot 640 – I would kill for this… My birthday was last week – there’s still time!

Lot 730 – No idea how big these are (Cataloging ommission. And proof that this is a serious “review! What PR person would call attention to that? Right..). At $100 per piece, they aren’t estimated ‘cheap’ but they could be good hung in a Breakfast room. Great colors. “Some sing the praises of Camenbert” grabs me.

Lot 881   Very useful – cool color flanking your sofa

Lot 924 – The Clermont!  Local History Buff alert!!

Lot 1078   OK – the Pet Department is sort of freaking me out.  A squirrel would survive one day in this prison.  And see Lot 1253 below. This would scare fish to death.. There’s no accounting for how people spend their money.

Lot 1253   “Sewer Tile Aquarium Castle”  (!!??!?)  (Note to self - add sewer to the Unfortunate Words list – shank, hut, gut, jungle, shack…)  If this can be sold, anything can be sold. 
So this list was done fast (as in: not very thoughtfully, more off-the-cuff..) to insure the info gets online pronto so you have plenty of time to get to Hudson to look and (don’t forget) touch.  Bear in mind, I’ll be there shopping for us and our clients, so I focused on the decorative stuff. 

My advice: when in doubt, leave a bid.  You never know what’ll happen.  We leave bids that we’re comfortable with (“That would be a huge bargain at that price.”), and wait. We’re frequently happily surprised when we get it for even less than our bid and are not bummed when it goes for more. That’s the great thing about honest auction houses, we leave a bid, and if it doesn’t go that high, we get it for the hammer price—sometimes LOTS lower than our bid. We truly do not need to be in the room, which is a good thing, as they run about 100 lots per hour—which crawls by—so we seldom attend in person.  Sometimes I leave bids, and also attend just for fun (as long as I make sure I don’t bid myself up!).  Some people feel they need to get the ‘feel’ of the competition. Not me. I’ve already made my best offer.  Whoever else is in the room or bidding against me, makes me no never mind.  Leaving bids removes the potential of getting caught up in Auction Fever—bidding in a frenzy, over your pre-planned Top Price, because you see The Enemy wants it too!  It’s all left to fate.

FYI – Value wise, in our experience, silver serving pieces and flatware are often bargains. Cheap.  Same with china.  Virtually free. We do well with rugs too—we’ve gotten great bargains.  Last month we got a big old handsome kilim rug for $125.

These three sales coming up at Stair are High End but be sure to go another time to experience the pleasures of an Exhibition Sale—Stair Galleries answer to Christie’s East & PB 84 (Oh boy, did I just date myself..).  We leave our bids (I’m not hangin’ in a sales room on a Friday night), though I hear the crowd can be fun.

Of course, I assume you realize this list is not the stuff we will indeed be bidding on, right? ‘Cause that would be dumb?  This Favorites List isn’t My Real Favorites List. You gotta play your cards close to your vest in the Auction World.  (Of course, after looking at this list, you might think, who cares what he’s bidding on? He’s nuts.)

So, this weekend, I gotta go, see and touch things, and then hone down the list and leave our bids.  Wish me luck. 

P,S. Why do people say they ‘won’ something at an auction???  Trust me, if you’re paying for it, it ain’t a prize.  You didn’t win it, you bought it. —Carey Maloney

Stair Galleries
549 Warren Street, Hudson; 518.751.1000
American, English and Continental Silver and Silver-Plate; Paintings; over 100 lots of Rare Books, Prints and Fine Bindings
Friday, March 27; 11 a.m.
American, English and Continental Furniture, Fine and Decorative Arts
Saturday & Sunday, March 28 & 29; 11 a.m.

Monday – Friday, March 18 – 20, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Saturday, March 21, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Sunday, March 22, 12 p.m. –  5 p.m.
Monday – Wednesday, March 23 – 25, 10 a,m, – 5 p,m.
Thursday, March 26, 10 a,m. – 6 p.m.
Friday, March.27, 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Saturday, March.28, 9 a,m, – 11 a,m.
Sunday, March.29,, 9 a.m. – 11 a,m.

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Posted by Marilyn Bethany on 03/17/09 at 01:45 PM • Permalink