I scored a ton of stuff a while back at an estate auction-with everything else going on, I am just getting to go through everything. I had only intended to walk away with a hand-carved tiki statue (at left, something of a rarity here on the cold, rainy East Coast), but the lure of the box lots, like a siren's call, drew me to my ultimate doom-but only for a buck.
For the uninitiated, let me start at the beginning. In the state of Pennsylvania there seems to be two ways to do estate auctions. FIrst is to have an auction company come and take all the merchandise away, and sell it off the block at their auction house. Far more exciting is the on-site auction, where treasure can be seen as it is hauled out of the nooks and crannies of some ancient house in the deep woods.
As a high school senior I had the opportunity to work for an auction company as a runner-it was here I learned most of the good, and bad, behaviors of my adulthood. Good, in that I learned never to be intimidated by a three-hundred-plus-pound dealer who has his heart set on something we are both bidding on, as he glowers menacingly (a dealer usually only bids to half a given item's value, so the collector nearly always wins in such a showdown). Bad, because I learned to packrat stuff (now known by the politically-correct name Colyer's syndrome, a genuine CONDITION, wow!), and also learned to be a cheap bastard. In general, however, I did learn the value of things and the sheer amount of stuff one human can accumulate in a lifetime. I also learned short of fresh produce and groceries, there is really no need to shop anywhere but yard sales, flea markets, and auctions.
Back to my ton of stuff-I took a day to visit an on-site auction with my friend and sometimes-attorney, Chad. He had seen a set of barrister's bookcases he wanted to look over advertised in the paper. I, having been through the gauntlet of auctions before, decided to go along to help run interference, and because I had not been to one in a long while.
I was pleased to find that the auction company was my old alma mater! I made the rounds and said hello to my old cronies, and grabbed a seat on the front lawn. The previous homeowner had been a military officer in WWII, and had, apparently, spent some time after the war in Europe-souvenirs of every description were displayed. Old uniforms, china, hand carved statues, books, photos, and trunks full of items yet to be discovered.
When Chad's bookcase came up, he balked-Chad, you must know, is as cheap as a $2 watch. Since his girlfriend is due to move in soon, he needs to class up the joint, and the bookcase was just the thing. I started bidding for him when he dropped off, citing that he would thank me later. In the end, he scored a beautiful unit (one of two for sale) for just $375-anyone who knows the pricing of these knows twice as much is not uncommon in some areas of the country. He looked at me with uncertainty and I gave him a "just trust me" look back.
As an auction draws to a close, box lots begin to go up for sale-these are as the name suggests-boxes of items too numerous or of too little value to go over the auction block individually. A lot can be one or more boxes, and it is here you can often find some great deals.
Having done this before, I quickly reaquainted myself with my favorite dealers of days past, and introduced them to Chad. Eric, my favorite dealer, actually once worked with me in my UPS days, and looked as if he hadn't changed-long, unkept hair under a knit hat, scraggly beard tied at the bottom with rubber bands like Captain Lou Albano of wrestling fame, and a constant smile. Eric had taught me a lot about antiques, probably more than two straight guys like us should know. We quickly began digging through the boxes, looking for anything the auctioneers had missed of value. Chad spotted a few things in a lot Eric was interested in-they began to debate, neither one wanting to give up what they were interested in, lest mention of it build value to the other. Once they realized they were interested in different things, they agreed to let Eric bid, and he would simply sell Chad what he wanted out of the lot.
Now, of course, this behavior is actually considered illegal in the state, something about conspiracy or something. But, like whistling on a Tuesday in some towns, it's not usually enforced unless you are dumb enough to speak up in front of the auctioneer. Both Eric and Chad were smart, however, and got away with what they wanted for less than $5 a piece.
I had bid on a lot of books-TONS of books, all with interesting titles relating to witchcraft and the occult. I got outbid, but later found the buyer was only interested in a few glass items in one box-he told me to take all the books I wanted, so I took them all. Great move, as I found in with them "The Practical Handyman's Encyclopedia".
(At one time in America, the average adult male usually had a set of do-it-yourself encyclopedias on his hand-made bookshelf or workbench-this set is my second, the first being a Popular Mechanics set from the Fifities)
Now, I am a sucker for old handyman books for several reasons-one, as a lover of vintage ephemera, you can often get great plans for furniture and the kinds of gadgetry and ingenuity you just don't see anymore. Two, it's a great "slice of life" kind of journey, back to a time when every suburban male seemingly had a drill press, lathe, and table saw at hand to make or repair whatever he needed.
The Encyclopedia was no different, with plans for everything from small fishing boats to vacation homes and everything in between. Volume 9, however, proved to be the Rosetta Stone of Handyman-dom. For a whopping 36 pages, there is an entire section devoted to HOT RODDING. Not auto repair, not painting your car under your home-made carport, but honest-to-goodness HOT RODDING.
(Think the compact craze is new? Think again! Rodders were taking advantage of the lighter-weight small cars (for the time) and turbocharging back in the Sixties)
Back in the early days of hot rodding, there was a nearly direct line to aircraft engineering in relation to performance. The early rodders, some of them pilots or aircraft mechanics during WWII, applied some of what they had learned to their race cars. Streamlining and Turbocharging were two things directly descended from aircraft design-The latter allowed a plane to achieve better horsepower at high altitudes, letting an adequate amount of combustible air to the cylinders of the engines. When applied to early race cars, a significant power increase was realized on the ground, and both turbo and super-charging are still used today. Early salt flats or dry lakebed racers were also often constructed from the large auxilliary fuel tanks attached to the bellies of long-range bombers during the war. These "Belly Tank Racers" were among the fastest on the perfectly flat surface of Bonneville and other dry lake beds.
(Forget Old Skool-this is the First School-the So-Cal Speed Shop Belly Tank Lakester in 1949, turning a speed of nearly 140mph. Photo Courtesy of So-Cal Speedshop website)
(So-Cal Speed Shop founder/owner Alex Xydias poses with the recently restored Lakester at El Mirage dry lake bed. The car currently resides at the Petersen Automotive Museum in LA. Photo Courtesy of So-Cal Speed Shop website)
All in all a great haul-stay tuned for more on projects from the encyclopedias as the blog rolls on.