A Little Insight Into The Other Side Of The Auction Business.
Auctions can be a lot of fun, and I work hard to make sure they are enjoyable. I think they are supposed to be fun. That’s the difference between a live auction and the on-line auctions.
However, there is the other side of the auction business that most people do not see. Dealing with family who have just lost a loved one, or dealing with someone who is settling their personal affairs.
When someone passes, those left behind have to deal with funeral directors, clergy, and lawyers. However, you may also have to deal with an auctioneer as well, and there are situations when we are called in very quickly to handle an estate or some of the household contents.
A few years ago I received a call from a woman, and I went out to the house that afternoon. Her mother’s funeral was the day before, and we had to start packing right away. She was the only child, lived in Alberta, and she had no choice but to deal with the house contents quickly. It may have seemed cold, but this woman had to set grieving aside, and take care of the matter. We were the only ones she could turn to, in the time frame she had to deal with her mother’s estate.
Just last year I was dealing with a woman who was in the final stages of cancer. Her palliative care nurse told me it would likely be less than two weeks before she passed. She had two daughters she adopted later in life, and she expressed her concern to me that neither daughter would be interested in her lifetime collection of antiques. In fact one daughter bluntly told me she wasn’t interested in anything. This poor woman, in the final days she had left, was worried about what was going to become of her antiques, and wanted me to buy them outright, or arrange for them to go to auction. She wanted to know what I would take, what the pieces are currently worth, and how much I would pay for them. It was very difficult for me to be discussing money at a time like that, but I finally was able to put her mind at ease, by assuring her we would take care of the antiques, if her daughters were not interested. She passed away a few days after my last visit. After the funeral, her daughter contacted me and told me they would be keeping almost all of the antiques. I told her I thought her mother would be very pleased. However, I also thought to myself, “I wish she would have told her mother while she was still alive”.
When we are doing an auction, we often will make jokes with the crowd ,and even at times, make jokes about the items we are selling. However, here is one story from a long time friend of mine. He was helping out at an on-site estate auction, many years ago. The auctioneer was selling some old aprons. My friend, who is carrying a few extra pounds, put one of the aprons around his waist, and the crowd started laughing. However, there was one young woman in the crowd standing right in front of him. As the crowd was laughing, she looked right at him and said, “that was my grandmother’s apron”. My friend felt so badly for making fun of the aprons, and of course not thinking that family members were in attendance. We have to remember, everything we sell, once belonged to someone.
So, as auctioneers, we have to be sensitive when dealing with families,, at what could be a difficult time in their lives. It’s not always “just stuff”. Many times there are memories and emotions attached to the items we are selling.
However, I have one more story to tell, and this is on the lighter side. A customer of mine, was a very serious milk bottle collector. A friend of his had passed away, and he was very interested in buying his friends collection. However, he wanted to wait an appropriate amount of time before he approached the widow. After a month, he felt the time was right. He visited his friend’s widow, asked about the collection, and she looked him straight in the face and said “ too late…I sold them at the funeral!”