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Thursday, 9 June 2016

Bond at the Auction Rooms

A few weeks ago I attended a parish auction with only one aim. It worked two years ago, when I bought a wonderfully old blanket chest at a knockdown price. This year I was after a blue, leather-bound set of Walter Scott, not first editions, but published in 1900. In these events it’s as well not to make your interest to overt, so I hovered over all the books and was even tempted by a first edition of Biggles, meaningful to every Briton of a certain age. Then, when no one was looking, I inspected my quarry. What was so startling was not only their general condition, pristine, but the quality of the paper, still a startling white, with gilt edging.

I sat down in quiet anticipation with my bidding number 44. 

I’d been given strict instructions not to come home with stuff we didn’t need. How a set of twenty-two leather bound book escaped this injunction, I don’t know. Only that my wife is very tolerant. But dear me, I was tempted.

Monmouth is quite wealthy and parishioners generous. There were treasures here, I tell you, gorgeous cut glass, decanters, whole tea sets, fine porcelain, all at ridiculous prices. The acquisitive gene was writhing, bursting for release. I held firm.

Then, at last the books came under the hammer, and I grew a little alarmed when the first edition Biggles was sold for £26. How the hell was I going to afford twenty two volumes of Walter Scott?

My beloved was brought into view, the price starting at a modest £10 for the lot. By this time, I knew the score. I held fire and observed. Who were my competitors? Were there any?

Yes. Two. They began in a fairly bored way, bidding against each other in desultory fashion, each time raising their bids by £2. At £20 one of them dropped out and the auctioneer’s hammer went down once, then twice—>I held up my card! And sensed the gnashing of teeth somewhere behind me. (At this point, I confess to an elementary mistake. I was sitting near the front and couldn’t easily see my competitor who stood near the back)

Time to play mind games. The price kept going up —> £22. £24. £26. Each time I hesitated, sweetening my rival with hope. The auction room had vanished. I was in Monte Carlo, wearing a white jacket, with a martini, shaken not stirred. Bloefield sat on the other side of the card table, face steady, his cards unseen. Who would blink first?

I had my limit—made up there and then—£40. I had my guardian angel, too. My opponent folded at £38 and I left the room triumphant, with twenty-two volumes I’d probably never entirely read. Stroke perhaps.


Maria Zannini said...

Congratulations! That's a great buy!

We miss going to auctions. When we were poor we attended one monthly in SE Texas during the 70s. It was our diversion because we rarely bought anything. Over the next two years, we filled our home with vintage English furniture.

They rarely auctioned books, but one time I bid on a box that contained a book from the 1800s detailing the proper manners for a lady.

I read it, but I don't think it took. :)

Your books look lovely. I'm glad they found a good home.

Mike Keyton said...

Another thing I learned in auctions, assuming you quite fancy what's being offered don't be shy to bid in the opening twenty minutes of an auction - before people are warmed up. Eventually they get 'fired' bidding like there's no tomorrow. But in those early twenty minutes I saw a boy of fifteen walk off with a full dinner service - very high quality - for under £10. Why? Because he struck while others slept.

And I am as pleased as punch with those books. I wish they'd been offered in those first 20 minutes!