Going once, going twice… At the auction

by admin | June 20, 2013 7:45 pm

SULPHUR SPRINGS, TEXAS — The first rule when attending an auction is not to make any sudden moves when the bidding is underway, so you don’t end up buying a hideous French provincial canopy bed by accident because you were scratching your nose. Or fanning yourself with the buyer card given when you register, because the ceiling fans aren’t doing much to quell the heat, and the auctioneer mistakes that move for a bid on a stuffed pheasant from Scotland.

My Beautiful Mystery Companion and I are at the Sulphur Springs Antique Auction and Gallery, a pair of amateurs sitting among a crowd of antique dealers. We learned about this place from our sister-in-law five years ago and have visited a few times. You don’t have to be a dealer to attend; if you like antique furniture, most of which comes from the Scotland, England and France, there are some incredible deals to be had here. We are in search of dining room chairs to accompany the massive dining room table I finally refinished a few months back.

A word about that table, known as the Convent Table, because that is where my wife bought it, in Austin more than 30 years ago. By the time I tackled restoring it, several small pieces were missing, the top had been stained a weird shade of pinkish red, it was about to collapse from multiple moves, and bugs had chewed up one of the four leaves. Near as I can figure from looking online, the table probably came from Europe in the late 19th century judging from the construction. I had to build some parts out of what was left of the bug-chewed leaf, glued much of the table back together, stripped the finish while sniffing foul solvents, sanded the top surface and re-stained it. Roughly 100 hours later, the Convent Table has been restored to its proud origins.

Unfortunately, we had no chairs to match the table. I have been lugging around six blonde restaurant-grade chairs for a decade, which are sturdy and comfortable but look goofy around a 19-century table. So we have arrived at the auction an hour early and made a list of chairs on which to bid, with a budget of no more than $20 a chair, with a goal of buying eight chairs.

My BMC’s eyes light up when she spots a massive carved hall tree in the corner. That goes on the list as well. Hoo boy. It is indeed beautiful. A squat sideboard also catches her attention. It is in perfect condition, again with intricate carvings and a glass-like veneer. One of our early dates was to this auction house, where we realized that we had similar tastes in furniture, adding that to the list of compatibility items: food preferences, politics (usually) and music, to name a few.

We settle in for a long evening. The auction begins at 6:30 p.m., with the Pledge of Allegiance, explanation of the rules, (as is where is, mainly, as far as what one is buying), and when one can pick up what is bought. If we buy anything, we’ll come back the next day with a trailer. It’s a dark winding road from Sulphur Springs to Longview at midnight pulling a trailer, so we always opt to come back the next day.

I always let my BMC bid, because it is highly entertaining to watch. She wins the bid on a pair of nice chairs — 19th-century with leather seats — for $10 each. She is so excited that the auctioneer has to remind her to show him her bid number so he can record it. The hall tree comes up. We had agreed on a set amount. She goes above it, which is fine. It’s her money. Finally she drops out, as I figured she would. My BMC is nothing if not conservative with money.

The auctioneer gets a bit irritated at the low bidding on the chairs and starts grouping them together. We are one of the few folks interested in buying chairs, not caring that we have a matched set of eight, so at the end aren’t really sure how many chairs we have bought. (Turns out we bought eight after all, which was serendipitous.) And sure enough, my BMC bought the squat sideboard for $175, which was akin to stealing it. Put that piece of furniture in an antique shop in Dallas, and it’s $500, at least.

By the way, I was kidding about buying stuff with an accidental hand gesture. The auctioneer here once thought someone was bidding, but when he realized she wasn’t, he just made a joke about how hot it was in the building.

Still, I was taking no chances. I really didn’t want to take that stuffed pheasant home.

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