It's years since I've been to our local auction house, but on Friday afternoon, finding ourselves footloose and fancy-free (read Ruby was at my Mum's) we decided to pop in for the viewing session to see what delights were on offer.
It used to be a regular weekend activity. We'd go on Friday evening, jotting down interesting lots on notebooks then scurry home to look them up on eBay. On the Saturday morning we'd join the throng of wheelers and dealers and clear up on the 'retro' items which hadn't reached the radar yet of the aged regulars.
My auction house experiences go back a lot further than that though. As kids my parent's would often take us round the Friday evening viewing and we'd cavort about bashing hell out of the pianos, jumping on the piles of antique rugs and getting told off by the grumpy porters. My dad would sometimes come home with a manky looking chaise longues or Victorian drop-end sofas spewing their horse-hair stuffing, and take them to his upholstery evening classes. My mum's not averse to buying the odd item - chandeliers, bookcases, and famously, a pianola (which she bought for the box of rolls which came with it!).
Having made my list of items of interest, I turned up on Saturday morning on a rare trip out sans child. Even though I hadn't been regularly for at least 4 years, there were still loads of faces I recognised, and I even got a couple of 'welcome back' hugs from some of them!
If you've never been to an auction, then you really should. Nothing is quite the same - the smell of mothballs and camphor oil, the eclectic mix of people, the banter and the oddly hypnotising sound of the auctioneer: "Five, five, ten? Ten anywhere? Ten, fifteen, fifteen, who'll give me twenty..."
Times have changed though, I could no longer face joining the queue of flat-caps for a greasy egg and bacon butty and a polystyrene cup of gnats pee tea. Instead I sneaked out next-door to the Italian coffee house for a panini and a cappuccino - how very middle-class!
I won my first lot which was for two mirrors - only one of which I wanted. I did get a little carried away and ended up paying £22 for it, but I love old bevelled mirrors, and this was such an unusual shape.
It's hard to photograph, but you get the idea - it has a scalloped edge to it, almost a flower shape.
Unfortunately, there's a small chip at the bottom which I'm pretty sure wasn't there when I viewed it the day before, but that's the risk you take.
Next up was a wooden 'tool chest' which I thought would make a great box for keeping my sewing machine, fabric and scissors in. Some moron decided to paint the interior in white gloss and didn't stop when they reached the lip, so you can see white all around the lid, but I'm hoping some Nitromors or a good sanding will get rid of it. I was just about to take this out to the car when I thought to ask the porter "I don't suppose you have the key to this do you?" He produced a selection of keys from the pocket of his white overall and lo and behold found one to fit. Bonus! I now have a lockable chest. I paid £24 for it but shhhh, I told the old man it was less than £20!
If you go along to an auction, I dare you to bid on a 'mixed lot'. It's like a lucky dip for 2nd-hand junkies. Invariably it will mostly be toot, but there's always sure to be one or two worthwhile items in there. One mixed lot was called out by the auctioneer as "a gentleman's ebonised cane, a tummy trimmer, a board game and a pair of court shoes". Something for everyone methinks.
I had my eye on a huge pitcher jug, but unfortunately it was bundled into a lot of two cardboard boxes full of tat. Still, I managed to get the lot for £6 and instantly sold two other hideous vases to a dealer for £6, making it free, yipee!! There was another dealer hovering who said he'd give me a couple of quid for the rest because there was some cutlery he might be interested in. I bet! When I got it home there were some solid silver spoons in there! Luckily the dealer had disappeared so I didn't sell it on. There were one or two other bits of kitchenalia which I might put on eBay (a Tala icing set and a vintage wooden handled bread knife) so I may even end up in profit! After all, I only wanted this 12 inch jug with it's turquoise band.
I happened to be standing next to a box of old papers and magazines, and had been flicking idly through them. The 1923 copy of the Poultry Keeper was a riveting read, and when the number was called and nobody bid, my hand seemed to just mysteriously go up. The box was mine for £2.
It had tonnes of gazetteer editions, which I thought I might use the maps from for something crafty. But I got home and found they were from 1892, I don't think I'll be able to bring myself to cut them up - after all they've survived intact for over 100 years. They do have lots of postcard style advertising inserts for various soaps, so I'll probably frame a few of them up - perhaps not the wildly inappropriate and racist ones though!
Also in the box is a 1921 edition of Punch, full of beautiful illustrations.
A beautifully art deco copy of Hutchinson's Story Magazine, featuring novellas by the likes of Rider Haggard.
A 1920's copy of the New Magazine with a glorious front cover
and the one that tickled me - The Wide World - the magazine for men
which carries some hilarious advertising of the time, like the publication "Manhood - the Facts of Life presented to Men".
"Sanely written, in strong, clear, crisp language, full of force and directness, yet dignified and free from course allusions, the book enlightens on the great sex-topic. Untold misery has been caused by ignorance; this book will banish the darkness." - Strong stuff no doubt for 1919!
The adverts all suggest that the readers seemed to suffer from the same conditions, they all being concerned with shortness, stammering, nervousness and 'fatness'.
Seriously, I have spent hours chuckling at these. I love the ones promising that the application of electrical probes is a panacea for all ills, and will restore vigour.
And how about this for a bit of 1920's thriftiness - when your husband's suit is looking worn and tired, don't throw it away, simply get it turned inside out!
So there we have it. Those are the items I did buy. I managed to show restraint when the pretty little Japanese lacquered jewellery box I was after reached the dizzying heights of £55 and bowed out gracefully at £20. There was one item however, that I was so sorely tempted to buy. Just for it's pure, unadulterated kitschness. I mean, it's not often you see a 3ft china statue of a flamingo is it? Some lucky beggar got him for £2. When I mentioned to the old man that I was very tempted, he replied "oh, I'm glad you didn't buy it, it had a bleedin' great crack up it". Ha! I take that to mean this was the only problem with said 3ft flamingo. So, if you ever see a pristine model flamingo on your travels, be sure to give me a shout, because that comment from him is about as near to permission to purchase as I ever get!
And please tell me I'm not the only person to see this and then be completely unable to get this song out of my head.
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*check with your local auction house - some require you to pre-register before bidding, and most will charge a buyers commission of around 10% of the hammer price. As well as being a fruitful ground for people-watching, you can pick up some amazing furniture bargains. I saw a pine dining table & four chairs sell for £15, a leather double bedstead for £10 and a pine TV cabinet for £5.