The following article appeared in the Chico Enterprise Record on May 15, 2000. We think it says it better then we can.
Thanks Michelle MacEachern and the Enterprise Record for their permission to use this article:
Weekly auction adds a little drama to life
|By MICHELLE MacEACHERN - Staff Writer|
Anyone can end up the victor or vanquished in dozens of small, pitched battles over inanimate objects at the Chico Auction Gallery.
It draws locals and out-of-towners into an old warehouse by the railroad tracks at 926 W. 8th St. on Friday nights. The admission is free, and the human drama is all around. Bidders raise numbered white cards to say they're willing to buy as prices roll off auctioneer Jack Harbour's tongue. And anything from cars and jewels to unidentifiable junk gets sold within a few hours.
The veterans are unmistakable. The have reserved seats, because they know they can get one by calling in advance. They arrive early to check out what's being sold, sometimes making a note of their planned purchases on a pad. They bring fans in the summer and afghans in the winter because there's no temperature control, but their key accessory is a seat cushion. The metal chairs are hard and the action lasts for hours.
"We have people who have not missed an auction for 30 years," Harbour said.
Wearing a wireless mike, he counts out the prices in a voice that's a mixture of preacher and hawker. He stands behind the podium that says "You snooze - You lose" and he means it. The action is fast. Sometimes things sell in seconds. It only stops for one thing - a train rumbling by just a few feet from the building. Then Harbour declares a "train brake" and bidding stops while he grabs a quick drink from a water bottle.
Sometimes people chuckle when a particularly hideous lamp gets raised for sale. Harbour will advertise that they'll "sell it by the pound" or tell people its "so ugly it must be valuable."
An especially nice piece of furniture or rare collectible sometimes gets him to add "now, raise your sights here folks." If he isn't sure what's there he advertises "a box of stuff" or "one of those." Or, he'll point out something as a "sleeper," a potentially rare or old item that might be particularly valuable.
Sometimes the rivalry is palpable. Once, a woman offered to sell another auction attendee a toaster she'd won - she didn't really want it, but admitted she bid on it to try to up the cost for a long-time auction rival.
On any given weekend, there might be a young couple furnishing their home, an older lady adding to her vast collection of figurines, or a shop owner filling their shelves. Sometimes, what looks like trash goes for hundreds, while what seems to be valuable furniture sells for a fraction of the value.
There are drawbacks. There's no delivery service here, and you're expected to haul away whatever you buy in a day or two. They don't guarantee it'll work or last, or even that what appears to be an old Native American basket isn't a reproduction.
But there's always the chance something you pick up for a few bucks is worth much more. Harbour said he once sold a violin for $37.50 that later brought $25,000. He has several stories of things that sold for hundreds of times what people paid - an old railroad ticket book, or a painting.
Crowds have been big lately and a renewed interest in live auctions seems to be part of it, he said, perhaps helped by Antique Roadshow and on-line auctions like E-Bay.
The show "just stimulates people's curiosity." And in the last couple of years a lot of people have been showing up who are making a living or a few extra bucks selling things via the Internet. But some are there just to socialize and watch the action, which seems to be part garage sale and part soap opera.
"It has a little of both in it," Harbour said. But the advantage over garage sales is having 100 or more people in the audience, several of whom may want the same thing.
"That's the advantage to it. You find out the value of fine art by offering at public auction - that sets the market," he said. Something is worth what someone else is willing to pay for it. That's what auctions do."
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