Monday, August 30, 2010

Always an opportunity....

Recently I attended a liquidation auction of an old hardware store in a little town. I figured there was a good chance that I would be the only antiques dealer there, seeing as it was a a fairly small auction, and not extensively advertised. My "competition" would consist of local general buyers, maybe local collectors of specific things, maybe family members and that would be about it.

But, it was posted on the Internet, so it did attract 3 dealers/pickers from out of town. There really wasn't much in the auction that was fantastic, by a long shot. The few obviously "good" items there got pretty much retail prices. There was also a handful of items worth maybe $5 or $10 that reached high double digit and low triple digit figures. Gotta love those bidders who have more money than knowledge....or simply hate each other!

I bought a few things, and bid on several other things without getting them. But, there was a definite lack of items...which I know can be attributed to the fact that the place had been used for scenes in a Canadian made movie a number of years ago, so it had been gone through by several movie industry types, props people, set decorators, etc. Plus, as a hardware store, it was unofficially "open" for whoever needed some part for their whatchamacallit, so there had been new/old stock items flowing out of it for years.

They hauled out what they thought was salable at the auction, and invited people interested in items that were still in the building to haul them out to be added to the pile of stuff to be sold.

I hauled out a couple things, and watched as a couple of the dealers added stuff to the sale piles as well. But, I had also spotted several items I was interested in, and was amused to see that they remained in the very spots they had hung & sat for years.

You see, I was already planning on picking the place AFTER the auction was over.

One of the issues of doing the job of the auctioneer (that is, dragging stuff out that you are interested in) is that it can result in you paying way more for it than you would normally....

Or end up not buying it at all....seeing it get loaded into your competition's vehicle. This is a result of missing bidding on it because you were shooting the breeze with the guy next to you, or because you went off to buy some of that homemade apple pie (got to love country auction food!)...or, just being simply outbid.

At this particular sale there was an individual who I try not allow see me to 99% of the time they will jump in when they realize I am bidding. Yes, I do know what I am doing (most of the time, anyway!), and they figure that if they can bid me one bid over my limit, there will still be money to be made...even when they have no idea what the item is, nor its value.

That is a dangerous way to buy....that is, bidding against a dealer until the dealer quits bidding, thinking you are going to be buying it near wholesale that way. They are not idiots, they may well realize what you are doing. You may end up paying $400 for that $50 item if you really have no idea what the item is worth. It happened at this auction, though I was not the dealer who did any of that...though, I have done it on occasion. Yeah, even I can get vengeful! Plus, dealers also collect, and also will bid on items on the behalf of friends, good customers, family, etc...and thus bid up to retail levels on items.

Anyway, lets get back on track here...

So, the auction ended, and I waited for all the other dealers to load up and leave, as I didn't want any interlopers. I wasn't as concerned as I would normally be in an area I was not as familiar with. You see, I also had a bit of an "in" at this place. I went to school with the owner's son, being that I grew up in another town near-by. Also, a good friend of mine plays poker with the fellow on a regular basis. Plus, living within a short drive, I also sort of had "home ice" advantage (yes, that is a hockey reference), so if I had to come back the next day it wasn't going to be an issue. Familiarity also makes everyone involved more comfortable.

None of this would have been a problem, and I wouldn't have had to attend the auction had I just picked the place before, but that is neither here nor there. There is not enough time in my day to pick everywhere I want to..inevitably someone else will pick some of those places, the stuff will get thrown out or otherwise destroyed, an auction will get held, etc. Got to go with the flow.

But, I still looked at this auction as an opportunity to pick, not just bid on stuff.


The stuff that was "passed" up by others was still decent...but, no, that is not the only reason.

You see, I spotted a cellar door in the floor.

And there was nothing in the auction that had been brought up out of the, the trap door also appeared to have not been opened in awhile. "Awhile" turned out to have been about 3 years, as I was told later.

Plus, add to the fact there was a second floor that no one was allowed up in, either....not that anyone could get up there without a ladder, as the original exterior staircase had long since been taken down. I was told there was "nothing up there"...but, I have been told that before, and many time "nothing" turns out to be "something."

So, after the auction was over, and the public had pretty much all left, leaving just locals, I talked with & had a beer with the owners, and made a few piles of stuff I was interested in. Seeing as it was evening and getting late, and the cellar and upstairs still remained unexplored, I made arrangements to come back another day. I generally do not like leaving things very long, as people can change their minds about selling, family members & people like the seller's friends, etc, can remove/claim things that you uncovered, and sometimes even another picker or dealer can "happen along"...either by fluke or their own design in the case of less ethical sorts of people, wishing to scoop your potential inventory.

I went back, and the owner and I managed to pry open the cellar trap door. A chemical smell hit me, and I quickly found the source. Over & just behind the concrete wall holding back dirt & debris, right beside the stairs, I found and I turned over righted a box of what looked like 5 gallon square oil cans. It was quickly evident that it was actually a full case of old weed killer, 2-4-D....and two were leaking through rust holes in their tops...which splashed 2-4-D all over my hands...

DUH, forgot to don my gloves before going down there.

I jaunted up the stairs, and out of the store, heading to my van, rinsing my hands in a puddle left by the previous night's rainfall. I grabbed a pair of leather gloves (didn't have any rubber ones with me), and I hauled the weed killer out of the basement...the less that was leaking and filling the place with fumes the would have quickly become unbearable to work in the enclosed space had we left the tins there, now leaking more profusely than ever after being disturbed. I had to toss the gloves in the trash the next day, as they caused my van to absolutely reek of weed killer. Just another one of those picking expenses people don't think of. I was just lucky I didn't spill the stuff all over my shoes.

I dug around a bit, did a basic search. Turned over piles of planks (you never know where an 1800s wooden sign will be, plus you can find some nice old planks for fixing and creating country furniture like harvest tables, shelves, etc), climbed the pile of coal to get to more hidden cubbyholes, etc. In one spot, on top of the basement wall, on a ledge like area, I moved a piece of wood, and I suddenly heard a HISSSSS....

I poked at the edge of the pile, thinking I had somehow activated a spray can hidden underneath some fibreglass pink insulation. It is not uncommon for a spray can's top to get pushed when you are jostling junk around. I was keeping my nose vigilant for an odor of spray paint, insecticide, penetrating oil, parts cleaner, whatever...

Until a bee crawled up & out of the middle of the pile...!

The hiss was actually the combined annoyed buzzing of the disturbed hive's bumble bee residents.

I retreated to the opposite side of the basement to continue my search, but also keeping one ear and eye aware of my surroundings, making sure that a swarm was not emerging. Being the small type of bumble bees they were, I was already familiar with them from another encounter when I bumped what I thought was a pile of grass clippings in a yard, with a similar mass buzzing result. They were not really aggressive, and I had only disturbed them slightly, and it was somewhat cool in the dampness of the basement. Had I reached into the middle of the pile of insulation, or gave it a hard push I'd likely have had a different reaction from them, however.

The search did yield a few things, including a WW2 era storefront sign of a previous owner of the store in the 1940s, a primitive preserves cabinet, an ammunition crate, and an old paint company crate. Not tons of stuff, but you need to check out these places, because you never know what you will find. I had really needed a basement "fix", too...!

Yes, treasure hunting is my addiction...

So, here is a pic of me and the sign, and another pic of the cupboard...still covered in coal dust...oh, and yes, that is also coal dust (also 2-4-D and who knows what else) covering me. Also, the photo makes me look FAR cleaner than I was...and the sweat did gather some of the dust together to create a tar-like finish in drips & streaks......

The sign will likely be a keeper, as I am collecting/preserving local small business advertising, if I can afford to. I acquired that 1890s local butcher sign I blogged about previously, but, realistically, should turn it over into cash, as it has some decent cash value, and I have some higher $ into it. This yellow 1940s sign really has only some local interest, and as a result realistically low cash value, even as a decorator piece.

The seller and I couldn't get the cupboard out of the cellar, as his physical health did not able him to assist as much as required, so I had to leave it there until I was able to bring a friend out to assist me.

Yes, I went back again. Good thing it wasn't far away.

So, the next time I went out, my friend and I managed to get the thing out of the cellar...which is when I took a few pics, just to give you an idea of the ambiance of the place. Don't you feel important now?

In the last of these following 4 pictures you can see the pile of shredded pink fibreglass insulation (the pile to the right) that housed the bumble bee hive...apparently they really love the stuff. There is a tip you need to keep in the back of your mind for all those attics you will be digging around in!

Yeah, that is a goofy look/smile on my face...must have been the lingering 2-4-D fumes.

Notice all the rust on the pipes...a really good indication it has been damp for a long period of time...

Lots of dust floating about...
Hive is in the pile behind that white & grey stone...notice how the insulation looks shredded & fluffed up when compared to the piece on the left.

I found a few more things. Always worth a second can miss things easily when you are tired, excited, discouraged, etc....and sometimes you need to look at things differently to see other treasures missed the first time around.
After that, I paid for my finds, and we loaded all the dusty treasures up in my van.

Now, I have some really dirty stuff....the cabinet was the most dirty, being dug out of the cellar...and a cellar that was small, and constantly having coal dumped into it time and time again, over literally a 100 years.

My first stop after dropping off my friend was the car wash.....I spent $6 and the van was still dirty.

But, the cabinet was pretty clean, and looked much better.

Yes, some dealers may cringe at the fact I utilize the high pressure spray of a car wash, but it is effective, and reduces cleaning time...time is money!

I have gotten pretty good with car wash wands, though. You need to keep the spray away far enough to remove the dirt and NOT the paint. On this cabinet I did get the spray too close and took off an area of paint when I was trying to do a 2 hand maneuvering job of the cabinet with one hand. Luckily, the spots look like wear, so it still looks fine. Before & after photos are below.

----- BEFORE car wash -----

Got to like this...there were little notations on cardboard, tacked/nailed to the inside of the door, noting each shelf's required contents on the inside of the door. Took the cardboard bits off before washing, and will give the buyer the pieces to do with what they wish. Note the spelling of PICKLE...

----- AFTER car wash -----

Much better!

With the dust washed off, advertising from a salvaged crate board revealed itself. Washing that board too vigorously or getting too close with the wand would obliterate it, so you need to be careful of that sort of thing, also. When it comes to primitive pieces, those little details are part of the character of a piece. Also, time earned patina can be lost on some pieces using this method of cleaning. I so if an original patina is to be retained, you will need to use a different method of cleaning.....IE: get out the bucket and rags....! I would not recommend washing an older varnished piece with this method, either, as you will end up with a white, blotchy, essentially destroyed finish. Painted wicker, some primitive pieces, old crates, metal furniture, cast iron, and items of similar materials are suitable candidates, though there are exceptions. If you are afraid of loosing something that is under the dust, or have no idea what is under the dust/dirt/grime, try washing a discreet area with some clean warm water & a soft rag first to determine is the object can withstand the rigorous washing that a power washer or car was wand will provide.

And here are the backs of the bits of cardboard...early recycling!

There are two boards that had fallen off of the top of the cabinet. One end of the top had been sitting on the excessively (and previously flooded) damp floor. One board had already fallen off before I had moved it, and one while we were moving it up and out of the cellar. It is always advisable to inspect the piece in the daylight, and if there are any pieces of the item missing, you can go back and check the spot you got it from for the missing parts. Also, then you can also keep an eye open for parts that might have made their way to other locations of the room or building. Plus, it is not uncommon to find one part of a 2 piece cubpoard in two different parts of a building. Many times they will have been painted two entirely different colors!

Another thing I didn't really elaborate on is why it was difficult to get the cupboard out. Not only was it really a two man job, there had been support pillar installed on the wall right near the stairs, likely within the last 15 years. This 4" x 4" pillar just took up enough of the room by the stairs that we had to treat the extraction of the cabinet like those little wire puzzles....had to get thinking a little outside the box. It could not go on its side & straight out, and it could not go on its back and straight out on an angle up the stairs, as it would get weedged tightly in the space, which we found out by attempting just that earlier. It only fit through one end of the trap door opening...the end nearest the hinges, and we could only do that once we had managed to manouver it past the recently installed support post. Was one of those "oh crap" moments. It did look like it would fit straight up the stairs...until we got it there.

Before you buy any large or bulky piece, make sure you can actually get it out of the building! Even seasoned dealers find themselves in situations where the removal of the item requires partial or entire disassembly of the item or structure of the building!

A dealer friend of mine purchased a beautiful 1880s bookcase in a basement of an old house. He enlisted me to help him move it, and what should have been a 15 minute moving job turned out to take 4 hours. As it turned out, the staircase had been modified to make it less steep...and thus, there was actually less room for tall items to be manouvered out of the basement.

First we tried to lift the unit over the modern banister, after also wisely removing the large paned glass doors.

No go.

We shifted, examined, moved, pushed, canter-levered and did all sorts of fancy lifting...with no luck.

Tools were sought out, and the banister was removed.

Repeat process.

No go.

To make a 4 hour story shorter, we ended up eventually having to remove 4 stairs in order to get the space to actually lift the thing out of the basement. Try standing on the edges of just two planks (with nails sticking out at a 90 degree angle, just below your feet, ready to shred your legs on the way down if you happen to slip) while lifting a large bookscase from a dead lift position...lots of fun!

I've had to disassemble my fair share of pieces of furniture. I know enough now to make this part of my offer...thus, I offer a lower price if I will have to spend time, elbow grease and loose flesh and blood working to get the item out that sort of location. My advice to you is that if someone else wants to pay more, then spend hours of their time fighting with the item, and end up wearing a straight jacket a the end of the process, or spending the profits at a bar trying to forget about the hell they went through, let 'em ! BUT, make sure you plant a camera there so we can all watch it on You Tube later, okay?

Work smart, not hard! Though, sometimes you have to work smart AND hard in this business. But, don't make more work for yourself if you can help it.

Also, some pieces may well have been built IN the very room you are buying them out of. They may literally have been built into the structure, or, just assembled in the room. Some may be easy enough to disassemble, but it is frustrating to find out that the large table you bought has had its legs glued in place with industrial glue & secured with long nails, and are no longer removable by undoing 4 nuts...and there is not enough room to scoot the legs around the doorway without permanently wedging halfway into the hallway.
Some things are not worth the effort. Even when such items are free, they may be more trouble than they are worth. I've have trouble refusing free things...but those stories deserve their own blog postings.

This lot actually cost me much less that I would have paid at the auction, I suspect. No, I didn't rip the fellow off. I asked him what he wanted for the stuff, and while we were determining the lot's price, I pointed out a scarce grease tin that I openly told him that I would have paid up to $60 for at the auction, had it been sold there and bidding taken it up to that amount. (But, then again, I might well have been able to buy it for $2 at the auction, right?)

He told me that I wouldn't have to give him THAT much for it. Much of the stuff was interesting, but not necessarily of high value, the sort of stuff that sells for $5 - $20, and you really need to pay little for it to make it worth dealing with at, if you are wholesaling such items, you need to watch what you are paying.

This fellow is intelligent, was in business for himself, and realizes that a profit has to be made. The price for the lot was $50...and stuff kept getting added as bonuses even after it was paid for. I thought I'd be paying extra for the cabinet, but he included it in the $50 lot, even after I offered to pay for it separately. I did make another small pile later, for which I offered $15...and as I was starting to pull out a $10 & a $5, I instead snagged the $20 beside those bills and told him to keep the extra for a coffee. He appreciated the gesture, and I was happy to add the extra. That extra $5 was well spent, in my opinion.

Some people think it is "stupid" to pay more for an item than person quotes you in those situations. But, which picker or dealer will they call back? The one who paid a price and walked, or the guy who threw in a little extra? Or took the owner out for a beer at the local bar, or out for lunch at a local cafe, etc.? I'd be willing to bet the beer & lunch costs were well spent, and will likely get them a call back, referrals, etc! Plus, who knows what leads you will get in conversation over that lunch! Or a glowing reccomendation and friendly introduction to the guy's buddies with the barns full of "old junk", who happen to be sitting at the next table...!

Yes, you need to become a people person, of sorts. It took me awhile to get over things like shyness, look past stereotypes, not judge someone by their appearance, etc. I am sure in the past I have shocked some dealers who did not know who I was when I walked into their super clean store, fresh out of one of their neighbor's basements, covered in dust, dirt & sweat, ask to see an expensive item from a showcase, examine it as required, then immediately pull out the cash for it, because I know I can sell it the next day for double that price. Dealers who are running stores sometimes need schooling in the "appearances can be deceiving" line of thought too.

Corporation presidents with 7 figure incomes take days off, wear ripped hoodies and wear baggy sweat pants!

Plus, a thief can fill out an Armani suit well!

Well, I have babbled on pretty much enough for this entry! Hope you learned something, or at least were entertained for a bit! Will leave you with some pics of the pick I described, the stuff jumbled in the back of my van, & spread out, as well as some closeups. Most neat, salable, or just kind of interesting!

Wasn't the best packing job!

3 of those Carbon Tetrachloride filled fire extinguishers I have cautioned you about in previous posts.
Got 2 pair of these curtain rod sets, both NOS.
That rare tin I mentioned is the top one of these two.

Bin for a scale, a hand forged rake head, two cast iron brackets, etc.
A tin smith's pattern & a goose decoy made with it.
Cast iron register grates (one is NOS!), a pool cue "bridge" and some NOS bicycle tires.
NOS rail sliding door hardware..industrial grade for barns and the like.

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