|1958 Supro Guitar and Amp Just In To The Shop|
PROUD TO SAY HE WAS MY TEACHER, ONCE UPON A TIME; ONTARIO HERITAGE AWARD PRESENTED TO GARY DENNISS
THE FIRST TEACHER TO INSPIRE ME, ABOUT THE INTERESTING HISTORY WE'VE HAD RIGHT AT HOME
THIS WEEK, I WAS THRILLED TO FIND OUT, THAT ONE OF MY EARLY MENTORS, IN THE STUDY OF REGIONAL HISTORY, HAD JUST RECEIVED THE "ONTARIO HERITAGE AWARD FOR LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT." HE WAS PRESENTED THE AWARD BY THE LT. GOVERNOR OF ONTARIO, DAVID ONLEY, DURING A CEREMONY HELD AT QUEEN'S PARK, IN TORONTO, BACK ON THE 21ST OF FEBRUARY. BRACEBRIDGE COUNCILLOR STEVE CLEMENT ATTENDED THE PRESENTATION CEREMONY WITH GARY DENNISS. GARY HAD BEEN NOMINATED FOR THE AWARD BY THE COUNCIL, OF THE TOWN OF BRACEBRIDGE. I READ THE STORY ONLINE, VIA "MUSKOKA TO-DAILY," THAT YOU CAN CHECK OUT YOURSELF.
GARY DENNISS HAS WRITTEN THIRTY BOOKS, DURING HIS LENGTHY STINT AS A COMMUNITY, AND REGIONAL HISTORIAN, AND THESE SAME BOOKS, WHEN THEY DO SELL-OUT, ARE THEN HUSTLED BY OLD BOOK SELLERS LIKE ME, FOR OFTEN TWICE TO THREE TIMES THE VALUE. THEY'RE IN DEMAND, AND EVERY AUTHOR WANTS TO HEAR THOSE WORDS. "THE SCHOOLS OF MUSKOKA," COMES TO MIND. I CAN'T KEEP THEM IN STOCK. MOST RECENTLY HE WROTE A BO0K, PROFILING THE STREETS OF BRACEBRIDGE, AND HOW THEY GOT THEIR NAMES. I HAD A CHANCE TO TALK TO GARY ABOUT THIS BOOK, JUST BEFORE IT WENT TO THE PRINTER, AND HE TOLD ME THAT HE HAD BORROWED A FEW WORDS, FROM A BOOK I'D PUT TOGETHER BACK IN 2000, ABOUT GROWING UP ON ALICE STREET, UP ON HUNTS HILL.
ON THIS OCCASION, I TOOK THE OPPORTUNITY, THINKING THAT SOONER OR LATER, THE TOWN WAS GOING TO RECOGNIZE HIS AMAZING BODY OF WORK, OF CONGRATULATING HIM IN ADVANCE, FOR NOT ONLY HIS MOST RECENT PROJECT, BUT FOR INFILLING AND CONSERVING SO MUCH IMPORTANT HISTORY, IN THE COMMUNITY AND DISTRICT OF MUSKOKA. IF YOU KNOW GARY AT ALL, YOU'LL APPRECIATE HIS GREAT MODESTY, AND LOW-KEY APPROACH, TO WHAT HE HAS DONE FOR ALL THESE YEARS, TO MAKE US MORE AWARE OF THE ORIGINS OF OUR COMMUNITIES. HE HASN'T COMMITTED HIMSELF TO THESE RESEARCH PROJECTS TO MAKE LOTS OF MONEY, OR TO GAIN PERSONAL CREDITS. HE'S WORKED ON PROJECTS THAT HAVE, TO HIM, SEEMED UNDER-RECOGNIZED, AND STORIES THAT NEEDED TO BE TOLD. THESE WERE ALL PASSIONATE FORAYS INTO THE DEEP DRAWERS OF REGIONAL ARCHIVES. NONE OF THEM WERE EASY PROJECTS TO UNDERTAKE OR NAVIGATE, BUT HISTORIANS, TRUE TO THEIR CALLING, DON'T WORRY ABOUT THINGS LIKE "DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY," OR PUBLIC APPROVAL OF CONTENT. HIS PAINSTAKING RESEARCH, AND COURAGEOUS PURSUIT OF EVASIVE FACT, HAS HELPED HISTORIANS LIKE ME, PIECE TOGETHER DETAILS FOR OUR OWN PROJECTS, AND I DARE SAY, IN THE CREDITS OF A HUNDRED OTHER LOCAL HISTORIES, HIS WORK HAS BEEN ACKNOWLEDGED. THIS THE BEST WAY TO MEASURE THE IMPACT OF HIS RESEARCH. THE FACT HE HAS MADE A PUBLIC RECORD OF HIS FINDINGS, MEANS THAT HISTORIANS FOR EVER, AND EVER, WILL BE ABLE TO HAVE A STURDY PLATFORM, FROM WHICH TO WORK, CONTINUING THE DETAILED CHRONICLE OF HOW IT ALL BEGAN, AND HOW IT HAS PROGRESSED TO THE PRESENT TENSE.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE THOUSANDS OF STUDENTS, GARY TAUGHT, DURING HIS YEARS AS A PUBLIC SCHOOL TEACHER. WELL, HIS INSPIRATION STRETCHES A LONG, LONG WAY. I'M STILL AT IT, AND GARY WAS MY TEACHER BACK IN ABOUT GRADE SEVEN OR SO, AT BRACEBRIDGE PUBLIC SCHOOL. WHETHER IT WAS PART OF THE CURRICULUM OR NOT, GARY INFUSED LESSONS ABOUT REGIONAL HISTORY, INTO OUR EXAMINATION OF CANADIAN HISTORY.
HIS PERSPECTIVE, WAS THAT IN ORDER TO UNDERSTAND NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL HISTORY, ONE HAD TO APPRECIATE THE LOCAL CHRONICLE, AS A PARALLEL, OF ALL THAT HAS OCCURRED. WE, IN MUSKOKA, ARE NOT AN ISLAND. WE HAVE BEEN INFLUENCED BY THE HISTORY AROUND US; BEYOND US! GARY HAS ALWAYS BEEN PROUD TO REPRESENT LOCAL HERITAGE, AND EVERY STUDENT HE EVER HAD IN HIS CLASS, LEARNED ONE WAY OR ANOTHER, ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF "HOMETOWN" PRIDE. THAT'S NOT WHY HE RECEIVED THE AWARD, FOR LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT, BUT YOU COULDN'T PUT TOGETHER HIS BIOGRAPHY, WITHOUT DEDICATING AT LEAST HALF THE TEXT, TO HIS DEDICATED, HEARTFELT WORK, WITH THE STUDENTS OF THIS DISTRICT; ALWAYS GIVING THEM AN OPPORTUNITY TO KNOW MORE ABOUT THE PLACE IN WHICH THEY RESIDE.
I DON'T GO VERY FAR, IN ANY RESEARCH PROJECT, WITHOUT RECALLING SOMETHING OR OTHER, THAT GARY DENNISS TUTORED ME ABOUT, FIRST IN THE CLASSROOM, AND THEN AS A CONTINUING MENTOR, UP TO AND INCLUDING THE PRESENT. IN FACT, ABOUT FIFTEEN YEARS AGO, I APPROACHED FELLOW HISTORIAN AND PUBLISHER, GARY LONG, ABOUT PULLING LOCAL HISTORIANS TOGETHER, TO PUT OUT A SORT OF HERITAGE COMPENDIUM, FOR THE DISTRICT, CAPITALIZING ON EACH OF OUR STRENGTHS. WELL, GARY WONDERED HOW WE COULD PULL IT ALL TOGETHER, AND I SUGGESTED THEN, GARY DENNISS WOULD BE THE ONE HISTORIAN I'D TURN TO, IN ORDER TO FIND ORDER AMONGST CHAOS. IT WOULD BE NO EASY TASK, TO PUT ALL OUR AREA HISTORIANS TOGETHER, AND HAVE US ALL GET ALONG FOR A COUPLE OF HOURS, LET ALONE TO CO-OPERATE ON SUCH A HUGE PROJECT FOR A YEAR OR MORE. GARY WAS THE ONLY ONE WHO COULD HAVE PUT US IN OUR RESPECTIVE POCKETS OF EXPERTISE, AND BROUGHT ABOUT A SENSIBLE, USEFUL PUBLICATION FOR THE PUBLIC.
WELL, GARY LONG MOVED UP NORTH, AND I GOT INVOLVED WITH THE CROZIER FOUNDATION, AS CURATOR OF THE BRACEBRIDGE SPORTS HALL OF FAME EXHIBIT, AND THE IDEA JUST FELL BY THE WAYSIDE. I THINK IT COULD STILL WORK, BUT WITH PUBLISHING COSTS SO DEAR THESE DAYS, IT MIGHT BE VERY HARD TO JUSTIFY THE EXPENSE OF SUCH A COMPENDIUM. WE'VE GOT A LOT OF TALENTED REGIONAL HISTORIANS, STILL OPERATING HERE IN MUSKOKA, AND WE HAVE MUCH IN COMMON. BUT WE'VE ALSO ALL GOT OUR PET PROJECTS, THAT HAVE COME TO CONSUME US. SUZANNE REFERS TO IT ALL AS "TED'S OBSESSION." MAY BE IT IS AN OBSESSION, BUT IT JUST HAPPENS TO BE A CHARACTER FLAW I'M HAPPY TO LIVE WITH.
WHAT SOME OF US, WHO CLAIM TO KNOW GARY DENNISS, MAY NOT BE AWARE, IS THAT HE HAS BEEN INSTRUMENTAL, IN CONSERVATION OF THE LANGFORD CEMETERY, AND HAS BEEN A LONG SERVING MEMBER OF THE CEMETERY BOARD. THE DENNISS FAMILY HAS ASSISTED WITH CEMETERY MAINTENANCE, CARE OF THE HISTORIC GRAVESTONES, AND DOCUMENTATION OF ITS HERITAGE.
I HAVE HAD A LONGSTANDING DIFFERENCE OF OPINION WITH THE COUNCIL, OF THE TOWN OF BRACEBRIDGE, BUT I CAN TELL YOU, THIS IS ONE TIME, WHEN I AM IN FULL AGREEMENT WITH THEIR NOMINATION OF GARY DENNISS, FOR THIS WELL DESERVED PROVINCIAL HONOR. I'M THRILLED TO SAY, I KNEW HIM AS A YOUNG TEACHER, WHO KNEW WHERE HE WAS HEADED; AND HE SHARED THAT DIRECTION WITH US, HIS STUDENTS. CONGRATULATIONS GARY, AND FAMILY, FOR ALL YOU HAVE DONE TO HELP US UNDERSTAND OUR HISTORY, HERE IN MUSKOKA. WE ARE ALL BETTER FOR HIS EFFORTS.
THE ALLURE OF ANTIQUES IN THE BOSUM OF NATURE - THE WIN-WIN OF ANTIQUING IF YOU DO IT RIGHT
The point, earlier this week, of highlighting David Grayson's 1909, "Adventures in Contentment," was to, in a very small way, define, via adopted philosophy, how we operate our business here at Andrew Currie's Music, and Suzanne Currie's Cookery Nookery. It's become an issue, most recently, because Andrew and Robert, both qualified sound technicians, for local entertainment venues, decided it was time to devote all their time, to running their respective businesses. Both lads have had outside gigs for most of the past ten years, while working on the expansion of their mainstreet vintage music and antique shop. Unfortunately, some of the venues they've been working at, needed more time commitment, than the boys could justify expending, because of the new demands at the shop. We've even had a few folks comment to us, that we should have kept on "burning the candle at both ends," because it's the right thing to do, in a tough economy! For some people, possibly it is! Just not for us. So for those who think this way, we offered a little explanation this week, of our business philosophy, and borrowed some plumes from David Grayson, to illustrate our point.
Now in the tenth year, their business philosophy has never changed. They worked at outside jobs to help fund the growth of the shop, and for a little pocket money. There was always the plan, to, at a certain level of business growth, retire temporarily, from outside gigs; to concentrate instead, on the main enterprise here in Gravenhurst. It took a little longer to admit this, because Andrew was having a good time out there, working with some fine musicians, who have since become friends of the family. Exhaustion kind of set the new tone for the year, and both lads had to finally admit, they weren't having as much fun anymore. Too many late nights. They had no social life other than what they found at these gigs. And so far, both boys are enjoying the lesser pressure, and convenience, of working almost entirely from the shop. As for Grayson's work, it has been the template for us these many years; and although we don't own a farm, or aspire to be farmers, we have made the outdoors, very much a part of our business constitution. We have a Muskoka shop, true to the hinterland. We don't have trees, or a river running through it, but our hinterland values do....from one end of this neat old building to the other. You won't find a canoe in the shop, but we have our memories, up close and personal; recollection of times, with paddle in hand, and a lot of lakeland to yet to traverse. So our loyalties are clear. We like running our shop. But our great joy remains, that it's a shop, imbedded in one of the most beautiful regions on earth. And we are proudly, Muskokans.
COUNTRY TRAVELS ALL PART OF THE ANTIQUE EXPERIENCE
As I wrote about previously, I have subscribed to David Grayson's love of nature, since the early years of my relationship with antiques and collectables. I swiped a copy of his book, from the half-fallen shelf, in an abandoned Muskoka homestead, back in the late 1970's, and despite being in rough shape, it has served as a source of inspiration for all these years. I have made it a lifestyle model, that could be wrapped around my interests in antiques, and hunting them throughout this part of Ontario. I've adjusted it, of course, to meet my own interests, it has been particularly helpful, when it comes to expressing how important the Ontario countryside is, to the fulfillment of our business objectives. The simple fact, that we have always looked forward to our antique adventures, means for Suzanne and I, that no trip can be considered successful, if we haven't enjoyed the motor trip first of all. If all we come back with, is a collection of interesting "found" objects, then we will feel short-changed. We want to arrive back at Birch Hollow, with full appreciation, we have travelled through the history of Ontario; enjoying frequent stops along the route, whether to pick up some fresh produce, strawberries, honey, maple syrup being sold at the end of a farm lane; or pausing at an estate sale we came upon quite by accident. We have been enjoying the countryside, and all its inherent characteristics, including the weather, for as long as we have been doing this "collecting" thing. It has been the enhancement for every trip, every mile, and every successful antique harvest. We can not separate the two. We would not want to, even if we could! We do notice the countryside we pass, venue to venue, because it's important to our whole outlook, on our profession. The antique trade is full of eccentrics, and should you find us this way, we would be thusly honored.
There's just something wildly sensual, for an antique hunter, to round the corner on a sunny country road, and find up ahead, a field of flat-to-the-wall cupboards, sideboards, harvest tables, hoosier cupboards, windsor chairs, press backs, rocking chairs, homemade pine cradles, remnants of farm wagons and cutters, that have been hauled out of the barn, and farm house; the antique inventory of the advertised estate auction, is ready to roll, ready to be sold to the highest bidder, and we've arrived just in time.
It's how I began in the antique business. These were the sales that gave me an introduction, as to how the auction process worked, to disperse estate collections. I learned a lot from sitting at the back, of these open air festivals, and watching the anxious bidders posturing for the pieces they were about to bid-on. I'd make copious notes about the progress of the sale, and what unusual incidents may have occurred, during what were often, day-long marathons, to clean away all remnants of past residency. It was admittedly very sad, to see all this family history, being sold-off, and hauled away, in a hundred trucks converging on the beautiful farm pasture. I'd find myself a place to sit, well to the back, and jot down some observations, that I could later turn into a newspaper column, or feature article, about country auctions. I don't know how many of these, I had attended, from about 1976 through the 1990's, but enough to make some lasting memories, and framework for a future book. There's something so "David Grayson"-like, watching one of these country auctions unfold; and the hinterland factors heavily upon the actuality of the moment; and you know something? It impresses so deeply upon the soul, that it all becomes part of the patina of each article on the auction block. If you are buying a piece of furniture, for example, from a setting like this, and the circumstance of an estate auction, you will always be able to reflect back to the day it was purchased, and the setting that amplified its character. A collection of old pine furniture, in a farm field, in the glow of the afternoon sun, is something you just don't forget. But it was more than this, really, because of the characters who showed up for these events; the curiously bold bidders, that included collectors, dealers, home decorators, family of the estate, and just interested on-lookers. Many would bring their kids and significant others, and before long, all kinds of activities would be taking place, well beyond the purpose of the main event. It was a neat mosaic. Shy of a masterpiece, but within the frame of a mural, depicting country life in its most folkish attire.
When I worked for the newspaper, I always brought along a camera, to grab a couple of pictures; most featuring the auctioneer and helpers conducting the business of the sale, and then those shots of the kids enjoying a game of tag, in the farm meadow, or playing catch with a found baseball, or frisky. There might be dogs a-leaping, and oldtimers sitting back on a log pile, cradling the bowls of their warm pipes, stuffing-in fresh tobacco, from pouches kept neatly in shirt pockets. All the voices, all the revellry, all the amazing sights and sounds, mixing in with the roll of the auctioneer. I can remember pondering what Stephen Leacock might have observed and written about, if he'd parked himself down, on one of these rusted hay rakes, or plows, and sketched out an overview of the proceedings. This to me, the penniless voyeur, was Canadiana. It wasn't just the furniture, or implements leaning against the barn. It couldn't be simplified down to the auctioneer's call echoing over the countryside, or even just the people milling around the property. It was the whole scene, as if a Maud Lewis painting had suddenly come to life, in all its naive, poetic, folk character. The aroma of a spring pasture, the first wildflowers to blossom out on the field, and the fresh lakeland air, washing so gently over the green grasses, and evergreen border-land. The sound of geese flying overhead, and the venerable old crows, cawing from the branches of the leaning birches, down in the deep green lowland. This was my Canadian overview. It's what I wanted in my life. It's what made the pursuit of antiques and collectables so much more exciting and enjoyable. This prejudice, is what I exposed my young family to, from the beginning. It was my sons now playing catch in the pasture, or playing tag with the other kids, who had been dragged to the auction sale, by auction frenzied parents. It was my wife, Suzanne, talking with other collectors and dealers, about the selection of quilts and linens put up for sale; it was me, now with a few coins in my pocket, bidding on those flat-to-the-wall cupboards, and hoosiers; the joblots of vintage tools and box-lots of old books and antiquated oil lamp parts. I had written my whole family into this scene, that had now become our actuality. We were, I suppose, thusly, my realized dream of "living Canadiana." There was a vibrancy connected to the whole auction-setting, that became as richly storied as the old pine, with its soft, rich and historic patina.
Wherever we have travelled, as sightseers and antique hunters, we have carried this immense respect for the countryside we travel through; and like the legendary W.C. Fields, who was notorious for his full-regalia motor-trips, we are always prepared for picnic and recreation stops, and each is a celebration of man's interactions with nature. We'd stop at the Brunel Locks, every time we'd return from a buying trip to Huntsville, on the way back to Gravenhurst, after first hitting the local antique shop in Baysville. We'd set up a picnic adjacent to the locks, and haul out a few of our treasures, for closer inspection. The boys would bring out their fishing rods, or just enjoy themselves exploring the park. It was always a nice respite, even on the cusp of winter, when we'd have to dine in the car instead, but enjoying the view of the river. Sometimes we would find ourselves having a picnic lunch at the small park in Dorset, or at the Tea Lake Dam, just inside the west gate of Algonquin Park. It's where Canadian artist, Tom Thomson used to fly fish in the white water below the dam. I'd buy some old books, in the shops we'd pass, and I'd find one of them to read, while the boys enjoyed climbing the rocks and looking for fish in the shallow pools. Suzanne would doze off in a chair at the water's edge, and honestly, it always seemed a little like heaven on earth; at least for people like us, happy to be immersed in natural heritage, while being on the hunt for the artifacts of Canada's past. If you do this for enough years, well sir, it becomes part of your life and business. It's hard to explain all of this, to someone who, today, can't understand our cavalier attitude about hours of operation, and why it is, we won't work ourselves into sickness, for the almighty dollar. It's not how we measure the success of our daily lives or business week. It's great if we can make ends meet, and turn a little profit to jingle in our trouser pockets, but it can never be more important, than our general feeling of harmony, with all aspects of life. Even when we head out on yard sale Saturdays, we are still compelled to enjoy the whole experience; much as if we were to paint ourselves into that Maud Lewis painting. It's how we have come to see our role in the antique and collectable business. Part of the essence of this reality of Canadiana. I think that if I should ever return home, after one of these antiquing adventures, and feel uninspired by what I have seen and experienced, of the nature through which we have passed, I should wish then, to retire from the profession entirely. I have no expectation of this ever happening. I have my safeguards.
I often ask my antique hunting colleagues, if they ever stop for picnics, or feel compelled to dilly-dally at a nice location, between antique venues. A surprising number look at me, and wonder what would inspire such a ridiculous enquiry. Of course they don't stop for picnics, or steal a smooch under the canopy of a silver birch; or feel compelled to wax poetic about the sight of deer in a field, or an owl, perched in magnificent prominence, on a high snow-topped fence-post. What a shame. I don't say this in their presence. I just don't understand, how they can carry on all this countryside travel, and ignore the natural splendor that meshes it all together. I know there are those who share our romanticism and sentimentality for history, and what I call the true Canadiana, but I would like to reform everyone, such that they might come to notice nature, as more than a backdrop to the pursuit of antiques for profit.
Some of my contemporaries, wonder why it is, that I haven't yet, been swallowed whole, by the mass of my ideology. I like to think it's because I never take anything for granted, that might cause my ultimate irrelevance, or untimely demise.
Thank you so much for joining me today. What a beautiful day it was, here in Muskoka, despite the snowy entombment of a long and cold winter. There is spring in the air, no doubt about it. Remember to adjust your clocks tonight (Saturday evening); set them one hour ahead.
WHY GO TO A COUNTRY, FARM OR ESTATE AUCTION? IT'S NOT JUST FOR ANTIQUE HUNTERS
IT'S AMAZING THE BARGAINS YOU CAN SCORE AT AN AUCTION SALE
THE AUCTIONS I USED TO ATTEND REGULARLY, HERE IN THE MUSKOKA HINTERLAND, WERE PROFITABLE IN A NUMBER OF WAYS. FIRST OF ALL, AS ANTIQUE DEALERS IT'S A WAY OF BUYING IN BULK FOR THE SHOP. IT'S AN EVENT WHERE YOU CAN NETWORK AND SOCIALIZE WITH OTHERS IN THE ANTIQUE AND COLLECTIBLE INDUSTRY. AND YOU CAN ACQUIRE USED MATERIALS FOR HOME, HOUSE AND GARDEN, FOR A FRACTION OF THE PRICE, THE ITEMS SELL FOR NEW. IN FACT, THEY CAN BE ACQUIRED MOST OFTEN, CHEAPER THAN AT YARD SALES, AND WITHOUT THE STOP AND START DRIVING ALL OVER THE REGION. HERE'S HOW IT ALL WORKED…..FOR US. I HAVE TO WRITE OF THIS RETROSPECTIVELY, BECAUSE I HAVEN'T PURCHASED ANYTHING AT AN AUCTION FOR THE PAST FIVE YEARS……SIMPLY BECAUSE THERE HAVE BEEN VERY FEW IN OUR AREA OF SOUTH MUSKOKA. WHEN THERE HAS BEEN AN AUCTION, IT HAS BEEN A SPECIFICALLY "ANTIQUE" EVENT, WITH ITEMS CONSIGNED BY GENERALLY CASH-STARVED DEALERS (AND COLLECTORS), AS A BUSINESS FUNDRAISER. I NEVER GO TO THESE EVENTS AND I WILL NOT PAY A BUYER'S PREMIUM. CALL ME OLD FASHIONED. IF THE OLD TIMER AUCTIONEERS I KNEW, AND RESPECTED, DIDN'T NEED TO CHARGE BUYER'S PREMIUMS, THEN THE NEW BREED OF AUCTION CALLERS DOESN'T NEED TO EITHER. I LIKE THE AUCTIONS I ATTEND, TO BE SOCIABLE, INTERESTING, RANDOM, OF A HOUSEHOLD NATURE (EG. ESTATE), AND NEVER REQUIRE AN AUCTION PADDLE. I WANT THE FOOD VENDOR TO HAVE SOME BALLPARK HOTDOGS, SAUSAGES ON A BUN….FOR WHEN I'M HAVING A REALLY GOOD DAY, AND THE POP SHOULD BE ICE COLD…..AND THE COFFEE MUST TASTE LIKE COFFEE. I WANT TO RELAX, BID A LITTLE, CHAT WITH OUR FRIENDS, LOOK AND LEARN, AND WELL, HAVE A FULL LOAD OF ACQUISITIONS AT THE END OF THE SALE. THIS TEN YEARS AGO, AND FURTHER BACK, WAS A NORMAL WEEKEND AUCTION SALE. IT HAD EVERYTHING I WANTED, AND OUR FAMILY WAS THERE AS ENTHUSIASTIC PARTICIPANTS. WE DROPPED THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS AND INVESTED A LOT OF QUALITY TIME. OF COURSE I'M DISAPPOINTED THOSE DAYS ARE LONG GONE.
IN PREVIOUS COLUMNS (BLOGS), I WROTE ABOUT MY INTEREST IN THE TRADITIONAL AUCTION JOB-LOT, WHERE MANY BOXES OF HARD TO SELL (ON THEIR OWN) BOXES OF KITCHENWARE AND BOOKS ETC., ARE COMBINED AS A LOT AND MAY REPRESENT FROM FIVE TO FIFTEEN BOXES. THE AUCTIONEER MIGHT BE RUNNING BEHIND SCHEDULE, AND CAN'T DELAY SELLING THESE INDIVIDUAL BOXES, OF LARGELY THE SAME CONTENTS……HARVESTED FROM AN ESTATE KITCHEN, FOR EXAMPLE. THE BEST JOB-LOT TO FIND, IS ONE THAT IS CLEARLY A KITCHEN CLEAN-OUT, (BECAUSE YOU'VE STUDIED IT IN ADVANCE), IF YOU APPRECIATE AND CAN BENEFIT FROM THE COOKERY COLLECTIBLES WITHIN. SINCE WE BEGAN IN THE ANTIQUE AND COLLECTIBLE TRADE, THESE VINTAGE AND NOSTALGIC KITCHEN COOKWARE, UTENSILS, DEVICES, ROLLING PINS, (GLASS AND WOODEN), MUFFIN AND BREAD PANS, AND THE LIST GOES ON AND ON, HAVE BEEN OUR PROVERBIAL "BREAD AND BUTTER," IN TERMS OF PROFITABILITY. WHAT WOULD ALWAYS MAKE THIS A REAL BARGAIN, IS WHEN THE AUCTIONEER WAS JUST ABOUT TO MOVE ON TO THE NICE VINTAGE FURNITURE, EVERYONE AT THE SALE HAD BEEN WAITING FOR…..BUT HANG ON…..NOT US! WE WANTED THE JOB-LOT. THE APPROACH OF THE FURNITURE PART OF THE SALE, WOULD CREATE A RUSH TO GET COFFEES, AND BUTTER-TARTS (WHEN AVAILABLE), AND START FORMING RINGS AROUND WHAT IS ALWAYS THE HIGHLIGHT OF THE AUCTION. I SHOULD EXPLAIN, THAT A MAJOR SHIFT FROM BRIC-A-BRAC TO BIG TICKET ITEMS, WARRANTED A COFFEE BREAK FOR THE AUCTIONEER, AND THE AUDIENCE. THIS GENERALLY LEFT ONLY A FEW SOULS LEFT TO BID ON THE JOB-LOT OF BOXES, AND BECAUSE WE KNEW THE VALUE OF THE COLLECTIBLES INSIDE THOSE BOXES, IT WAS ALMOST HUNDRED PERCENT ODDS, THAT WE WOULD BE LOADING THEM INTO OUR VAN AFTER THE BIDDING. BY THIS POINT AUCTION GOERS GET WEARY OF THE "SMALLS" AS THEY ARE CALLED. IN THOSE REGULARLY GATHERED "JOB-LOTS" OF "SMALLS", THE ASTUTE BUYER COULD ACQUIRE BOXES OF VINTAGE AND NEW LINENS, FROM TABLE CLOTHES TO PILLOW CASES……BEDSPREADS, SHEETS, BATHROOM MATS (ALL CLEANED), AND METERS OF FABRIC. SUZANNE HAS PURCHASED THOUSANDS OF YARDS OF FABRIC IN THIS BULK (REALLY CHEAP) FASHION, BECAUSE OF HER SEWING PROJECT NEEDS, AND THIS WAS A HELL OF A WAY TO MAKE SOME AFFORDABLE ACQUISITIONS. YOU'RE RIGHT. BUT YOU DON'T REALLY GET TO SELECT THE FABRIC YOU REALLY WANT…..JUST WHAT IS BEING OFFERED FOR AUCTION. SUZANNE IS ONE OF THOSE "MAKE-DO, WORK-WITH-WHAT-YOU'VE-GOT" KIND OF PEOPLE……SO THESE AUCTION JOB-LOTS ALWAYS PAID DIVIDENDS, WHEN FABRIC WAS NEEDED "DOWN THE ROAD." THE SAME WITH WOOL. WE HAVE OLD PINE CUPBOARDS HERE AT BIRCH HOLLOW, FULL OF THESE COLORFUL BALLS OF WOOL, FOUND AT AUCTIONS IN LARGE QUANTITIES. SHE MAKES MITTS, SCARVES, TOQUES AND TAMS FROM THIS FOUND WOOL, AND ALTHOUGH SHE HAS TO ADJUST TO THE QUANTITY, THOSE WHO BUY HER WINTER-WEAR, ARE HAPPY THAT THEY ARE HOME-CRAFTED……REGARDLESS OF THE COLOR. ARE THEY WARM? YOU BET.
AS WELL, WHEN SUZANNE AND I FIRST STARTED GOING TO AUCTIONS, THEN UNDER THE CAPABLE DIRECTION OF LES RUTLEDGE, AND THEN ART CAMPBELL, WHO HAD ACTUALLY WORKED ALONGSIDE LES, WHEN THERE WERE MAJOR ESTATE SALES,….. WE USED WHAT LITTLE MONEY WE HAD, TO BUY UP THE BEST QUALITY POTS, PANS, BAKING TRAYS, MUFFIN TINS, MOULDS FOR JELLIES, AND CAST IRON FRYING PANS. IN FACT, WE WERE ABLE TO OUTFIT A KITCHEN WITH COOKWARE, AFTER ONLY THREE ESTATE SALES, DURING THAT SUMMER AUCTION SEASON, BEFORE OUR SEPTEMBER MARRIAGE. WE'RE PROUD OF THIS, BECAUSE WITH WEDDING GIFTS OF THE HOMEMAKING KIND, AND OUR AUCTION ACQUISITIONS, WE HAD AMAZINGLY WELL STOCKED CUPBOARDS…..THAT COULD HAVE EASILY BEEN TURNED INTO A COMMERCIAL KITCHEN WITH A FEW MINOR TWEAKS. NOW THERE ARE A LOT OF FOLKS, WHO HAVE NEVER BEEN TO AUCTIONS; OR THOUGHT OF THEM AS VIABLE, SENSIBLE, AFFORDABLE SHOPPING LOCATIONS AND ALTERNATIVES, FOR BUYING NEW STUFF. THEY WILL MOST LIKELY FIND THIS CRAZY-TALK, THAT THERE ARE ACTUALLY THESE KIND OF BARGAINS AVAILABLE, FOR THOSE WHO AREN'T INTERESTED IN THE ACRES OF ANTIQUES BEING OFFERED. I JUST KIND OF TAKE IT FOR GRANTED, AND I DON'T OFTEN WRITE ABOUT THIS ASPECT OF THE SALES; JUST BECAUSE I FIGURE MOST PEOPLE ARE AWARE THAT THERE IS A WILD AND DIVERSE SELECTION OF GOODS AT A TYPICAL ESTATE AUCTION. "ESTATE" USUALLY MEANS DISPERSAL OF EVERYTHING A FORMER OWNER POSSESSED. SO EVEN IF YOU'RE A HOME DECORATOR, A HOBBY CRAFTSPERSON, PROFESSIONAL SEAMSTRESS, KNITTER, HOME-MAKER, GARDENER, OR HOME HANDYMAN, THESE AUCTIONS CAN BE VERY SURPRISING, AND OFFER SOME AMAZING DISCOUNTS ON NEARLY NEW ITEMS. WE'VE BOUGHT JOB-LOT BOXES OF BEDROOM ITEMS, AND FOUND EATON'S DEPARTMENT STORE SHEETS, IN EVERY SIZE, STILL IN THE PLASTIC WRAP. THE PRICE. PENNIES, WHEN ALL THE OTHER VALUATIONS OF ARTICLES IN THE BOXES ARE CONSIDERED. I CAN'T POSSIBLY TELL YOU ALL THE NEAT FINDS WE'VE MADE IN THESE BOXES, OF FIFTY TO SEVENTY-FIVE YEAR OLD DEPARTMENT STORE WARES, STILL IN THE ORIGINAL BOXES, INCLUDING VINTAGE DRINKING GLASSES THAT HAVE NEVER BEEN USED.
WHY AREN'T THEY MORE EAGERLY SOUGHT AFTER…..SENDING THE PRICES UPWARD?
As I written about in previous blogs, when I first began attending auctions, my primary interest was to acquire antique shop inventory as cheaply as possible. I was glad to buy "in the rough" pieces, because I was pretty fair at refinishing. So I could buy a harvest table with broken legs, with seven coats of paint, for fifty bucks, and do the work myself to upgrade it; often more than quadrupling the value and making us a small but significant profit. I could refinish a harvest table in three days with a casual pace. The drying of the varnish took a little extra time. So the initial success at auctions, was that, in those days, most people wanted perfectly refinished pieces…..of oak and pine, and weren't prepared to put in the work to refinish the "as-is" furnishings. I would get offers on the pieces I'd purchased, before I hauled them home. The deal was, they would come to the shop for first refusal on the pieces, when they were cleared of the layers of old paint, and the wood mended, and cracks repaired. I sold a lot of pieces this way, and this fast. But what it meant at the actual auction level, was that because I was willing to put in the sweat equity, and refurbish the old beat-up furniture, my acquisition prices were generally very low. Bidders kept their cash reserves for the nicely aged Hoosier cupboards and pie safes, further up the auction line. I could buy most of the in-the-rough pieces and still have only spent two or three hundred dollars. The only thing about this, was that the stripping job was horrendously difficult, and as I'm injury prone, I looked like an Egyptian mummy, in bandages, at the end of each job. At times, sitting in my workshop with a cold and well deserved beer, I'd herald a little personal reflection on my life as a recent university graduate. I had a degree in history, but I sure as hell didn't need a degree to refinish this furniture. Gradually I moved out of this area of labor, because I wasn't able to profit as much as once, because even the as-is pieces were starting to sell for more and more each auction. But there's no question that I benefitted in the early years of the profession, as a result of being handy enough, to be able to engage the tools of the trade, and get a cupboard from the horrid stage, to "living room perfect." Today a lot more people prefer leaving these major furniture pieces, like harvest tables and flat-to-the-wall cupboards with their original finishes, and have actually begun paying way more for the privilege of having an antique with "historic patina." Boy oh boy, did I ever remove a lot of historic patina. Of course then, my customers didn't want worn finishes and flaking paint in their houses. It's a new era. A visually distressed piece is an honest antique……that couldn't have been re-produced. A lot of folks feel this way about authenticity, and they're not wrong to think this way…….particularly if they're buying off an estate sale. I prefer original finishes now, but I'm actually just wimping-out, because my best refinishing days are over. Too many aches and pains in the old joints, to do the same handiwork, as when I was in my twenties…..believing nothing could hurt this beautiful, muscle rippling body. Okay, you caught me in a lie. I wasn't beautiful. But yes I had lots of muscles. I used to lift weights for recreation. I regret that now, as I can hardly get off the couch any more……and have to unceremoniously drop and roll, and hope the momentum will allow me to rise from my knobby knees. Just one more thing on the subject of refinishing. One of my first refinishing jobs was to a beautiful circa 1860's pine buffet with elaborate carved handles on the drawers. I worked hard on that piece, and it took a whole week to perfect. I came back to the shop one day, and my mother, wearing a big retailer's smile, told me that she had good news. "I sold the cupboard Ted……for full price." Well sir, that was good news. The bad news? It was conditional on me removing the high gloss varnish. At least "dulling it down," as the customer had requested. Customer requests? I've got many blogs coming about customer requests "by the Jesus." A dealer's nightmare. The request! It took two hours of my time, to reduce that finish to low luster. I have never again used anything high gloss, for fear of the same type of customer request.
Having attended auctions with a modest budget, (cause that was all I had to my name, on that day, or week), I soon learned how to deal with my wants as related to cash availability. I watched the auction trends from sale to sale, and over a couple of years, I had found many habitual characteristics of the audience and specific bidders. I knew how to identify the peak times from the low moments, when the auctioneers would have a hard time getting even a dollar bid, of for example, one of these major job-lots. In fact, it's how the job-lot morphed from one box of glassware, to ten boxes of kitchen related utensils, pots and pans. Each time a bid couldn't be secured, something was added to the length of table in front of the audience, to sweeten the deal. The last auction I was at, the auctioneer simply pulled the box from the table, when he couldn't get a starting bid. This he declared "unsaleable," which to me was sacrilege. Of course it was salable, but more boxes and items needed to be added. I hate when people screw with tradition as I know it! So it's lucky Suzanne and I were setting up house at a time when the traditional job-lot, was still a useful way of selling otherwise unwanted items in bulk. I can honestly say, that I never purchased one of these bulk lots, without making at least a thousand percent profit on the sale of individual items…..without ever once gouging on asking prices. We have always priced at least twenty-five percent below, what is being charged by our nearest competitor. Same thing today. Of course, we don't get the same job-lot bargains of once…..and that's a real shame.
So the point is, Suzanne and I became imbedded students of the country auction, and keen watchers of all the auctioneers who came into our bailiwick for occasional sales. We knew when there was going to be a lull in bidding. For example, when a nice piece of vintage furniture sold for a substantial whack of money, such that the audience actually clapped for the winner of the intense bidding war, the very next item up for sale, most often sold well under value. That's what I often went after, and it was easy to pre-plan. I knew what was going to inspire the most aggressive bidding, so if there was something of interest to us, next in line, I was always ready to fire off a wink at my auctioneer friend. I've watched many of these fine pieces, such as china cupboards and Victorian Setees, bedsteads and balloon back chairs, sell for way under their antique value, because the crowd was pre-occupied, talking about the high selling price of the item just before. This also happens when there are furniture pieces ahead in the sale, that will inspire bidders to hold back some reserve cash, just in case they want to bid. This is good for me, because most of the time, the good items in between, will sell more affordably because of this fiscal restraint…..to be unleashed on another better furniture item. Funny thing then, is that the twenty or so potential bidders on the best pieces to come, have put all their proverbial eggs in one basket, and only one will win the coveted piece. So this saving-up-for-the-best-furniture (glass, clocks, china works in the same way), takes away a lot of competition for us. There are hundreds of tricks and important insights about bidding habits, that we've documented, thusly, allowing us (very frugal buyers), to sneak below the radar, as they say, and snag some big buys for little bucks. Dealers and collectors know all this stuff too, but we differ slightly, in that we seldom go after the best auction items, thusly staying out of their line of fire. And yes it's true, that handshake deals are made before the bidding commences, between dealer colleagues, about bidding up certain pieces of interest. These deals aren't good for the auctioneer or the estate (or sale host), because it limits competition. This goes back centuries, where dealers formed their own little groups, to corner the most desirable auction wares, and remove price-increasing bids from competing antique dealers. In other words, dealers would agree to who, (of their loose arrangement to break-up the conventions of the typical estate auction), would bid for choice pieces, so as to avoid bid escalations. At the end of the sale, the items purchased, would be auctioned privately, within the dealer collective…..and never with the auctioneer's blessing. While we didn't do this, as a rule, we did make deals like "I won't bid you up on the grandfather clock, if you don't bid me up on the Fenton cranberry glass bowl." It still wouldn't be auctioneer approved, but they can't stop it from happening either. We consider it a professional courtesy between dealers. But it does reduce competitive bidding, on those select auction materials, especially the major antiques; and considering that dealers will spend several thousand dollars at these sales, cutting down rivalry is never a good thing for the bottom line. It's just a fact of business and coexistence of others. This also happens amongst collectors and general bidders, who talk amongst themselves, and try whatever means possible, to diminish obstacles in their way……which of course, are the big money bidders who have a no-holds-barred philosophy.
I'll share a few more auction secrets and bidding tips in tomorrow's blog…….in case you want to brush up on some of your acquisition skills. Keep in mind, like a hockey player using his skill to score game winning goals, antique and collectible dealers, have to rely on their acquired and finely honed skills, to maintain profitable businesses. I've watched a lot of failed antique dealers in my day, who didn't think they had to apprentice with their elders in the profession. Wrong decision. The antique buy and sell is a minefield for many different reasons. Like the untutored art seller who buys a five thousand dollar copy of a major art work…….and then, when informed, lets out one of those honking big "doahs," made famous by Homer Simpson……just before weeping about the sorry state of the union. I am still apprenticing after thirty-five years in the trade. I expect to die of senior age, still working on the learning curve. But you know what? With the changes in technology, it's the same in a lot of professions these days. Just when you thought you knew it all…..whammy, the rules change and so does the job.
Thanks for joining me today, for a wee peek at the inner workings of country and estate auctions. There are some trade secrets I'd like to share, seeing as this is my swan-song biography. While I'm still a million dollars shy of being a millionaire, I've loved this profession for every one of the past 35 years, and yup, I'd like 35 more to enjoy. It's because of the attached adventures, that keeps me coming back for more. See you again soon. Drive carefully out there. Another wallop of winter is expected on Tuesday,.,,,,oh joy. I'm heading to hearthside at this moment. My feet are still cold from last night's outdoor festivities at the annual Gravenhurst Winter Carnival. It was the hallmark weather of the traditional Canadian Winter from my youth. But now unfortunately, I'm just an old fart who likes to be warm and cozy. Like now. Bye.