This morning, I attended my first estate auction, held at a house just a few blocks away. Built in the 1880s, the house has been vacant since its owner, Bernice, died 7 or 8 years ago. She had grown up in that house, then married and lived there with her husband. They had no children, so after she passed away, it sat, full of antiques and a lifetime’s worth of accumulated stuff.
The online advertisement talked of how rare it is to find a house with its contents so intact, and surveying the rows and rows of tables filled with everything from beautiful antique furniture to the minutiae of life – pots and pans, tablecloths, Christmas ornaments – made me kind of sad.
It took only three hours to auction off an entire lifetime of things. Each of those items had a story behind it, and I’m sure Bernice could have told you that the large platter was a Christmas present from her husband or she wore that broach to her best friend’s wedding. Maybe the books and books of stamps, so lovingly collected over the years, were a hobby shared with her husband. Did she receive the china as a wedding gift?
Even sadder were the photographs. Those were auctioned off in lots, and when interest waned, they started combining boxes, so three boxes of assorted family photographs – for a family whose line has ended – were going for a bid of $10. There was a pair of old photographs of the house itself, dated 1887, that should have stayed with the house, but instead they were bought and carted away.
I know that, with no heirs to speak up for the items, an auction is the logical way to dispose of it all. But I wonder if Bernice could have ever thought that the entire box of mementoes from her career at the Elgin National Watch Company would fetch just $20 from a stranger some 30 years later. And when I got home, and surveyed the items I’ve collected in my travels, I wonder if the silver Turkish coffee set I haggled for in Istanbul or the hand-painted clay puppets from Greece will some day be part of a similar auction.
I never raised my bid card, though I wish I would have on the Lady Elgin pendant watch, gold-filled, that went for $25. And the green Depression glassware was so pretty, but I had no real use for it. A friend won a couple lots of quilts and goofus glass, and gave me a pair of Japanese plates that had been thrown in. They’ll look nice in my built-in china cabinet.
Overall, it was an interesting morning, standing in the pouring rain under umbrellas, watching an entire houseful of items be inspected and carried off. (The mimosas and hot coffee definitely added some joviality to the affair.) I think I’ll go to more auctions in town, if even just to see the old photos of Elgin as it used to be. And maybe I’ll find a watch, or a photo of my house, perched up on the bluff.