Antique Estate Auction Offers Intriguing Glimpse into The Mind of The Collector

Jeff and I really got our fill of auctions a month ago when we attended a Pace Auction in Des Plaines – arriving at 10:30 and staying the entire day until every last lot was sold around 4:00 pm. I have been going to Pace Auctions since 1987 when I attended an auction they were conducting for an antique store going out of business on Lincoln Avenue in Chicago. I still have the pine dresser I purchased at that auction – it was a bit of a fixer upper but has served me well. Once upon a time, Pace held auctions every Monday night, but haven’t done so for years and now periodically have auctions on Saturdays. Jeff’s best Pace Auction tale goes back to 1999 when I took him to an auction and he purchased a huge lot of Star Trek Mego figures for just $45.00 and sold them for nearly $900.00 on eBay!

When you are bidding, you have to factor in the 15 percent buyer’s premium and sales tax on top of the winning bid. An odd thing about auctions is that you have to be careful with gestures or the auctioneer will think you are bidding. Inevitably, my allergies kicked in around all that musty stuff and I started to itch. If I lifted my hand to scratch my head, it might be considered a bid, and I nearly did this a few times. This phenomenon has been parodied on a number of TV sitcoms over the years.

David Pace is a master of “auctioneer chant” – he is so quick at his banter that half the time one cannot discern what he is saying. Just listening to this is entertainment enough, even if you don’t end up winning a lot. He also has a wicked sense of humor and some bidders were targets, including “yours truly” towards the very end of the auction.

The thing I find really fascinating about estate auctions is that it gives you a glimpse into the collecting mania – or hoarding patterns of one or more people. This particular auction was very eclectic, but yielded some insight into the collectors’ interests. There were an enormous number of antique scrapbooks that would have yielded an endless array of possibilities for my mixed media collages – alas, outbid on those lots. The most interesting of these lots included very old sports and war memorabilia dating from the late 1800s to the 1940s. There were several lots of old postcards and Valentine’s Day cards that went pretty high – not sure why since this type of paper ephemera is plentiful and relatively inexpensive, with rare exceptions.

I bid on a mixed lot of junk/treasures that yielding some intriguing finds, some of which I have already sold on eBay, but with mixed results. There was a little Maltese cross bearing the initials “H.I.N” on the front and “SEAL” and the date 1886 on the back. It measures a small 7/8 by 3/4 inch and is a membership fob for the International Order of King’s Daughters and Sons, a service organization that was founded in 1886 in New York City. The charitable, non-secular religious organization continues today because of the work the early leaders did in establishing hospitals, schools, and nursing homes. The IHN stands for “In His Name” which refers to Jesus Christ.

Maltese Cross

I find this antique brass guilloche enamel lady cycling lapel button/single cufflink quite interesting. I estimate that this piece dates from the early 1900s. This unique piece features a lady wearing kickers and riding a bike. It is made out of brass and dark blue, white and yellow guilloche enamel and says: Up to Date. There is some aging to this piece, although it is hard to see in the photo. The bottom of her sleeve and a small part of the jacket next to her arm are missing dark blue enamel.

Guilloche Lapel Button

I had no idea what the purpose of these clips was until doing some research. These fasteners, circa 1896, are Washburne Bull-Dog Grip cuff holders invented by James V. Washburne of Morrison, Illinois. Washburne was a prolific inventor of clips, clasps and fasteners for clothing, key chains and paper. These were all marketed as “Washburne Fasteners.” The cuff holder was meant to hold a loose shirt cuff tight, with one end of the clip holding the top of the cuff in place and the other end attached to the sleeve opening above the cuff. These were not specifically made to cheat on cards, but apparently you can hide an “ace up your sleeve” using one end of the clip. The approximately 2-inch long metal fasteners are marked Washburne Pat’d Mar 27-94, Feb 4-96 and are in excellent near mint condition.

Washburne Cuff Holder

This Montgomery Ward celluloid pinback button, circa 1896, advertising the Horseless Carriage is in less than pristine condition but still very cool. Made by the king of celluloid pinbacks, Whitehead & Hoag Co. of Newark, N.J., the bottom curl had a July 21, 1896 patent date. Unfortunately, the paper backing is missing, but research shows it said: “We Save You Money On What You Wear And Use ~ Montgomery Ward & Co Chicago ~ Your Money Refunded If Goods Are Not As Represented.”

Antique Montgomery Ward Pinback

This cute little postage stamp case advertises Bernstein The Tailor at 74 E. State Street in Ithaca, N.Y. The outside of the case is silver plated, but much of this has worn off to reveal brass. The storage area swings open on a hinge and has an oval opening – I assume to make it easy to get the stamps out. It measures 1 5/16 inches by 1 1/6 inch and the back is marked Cornell 93 Stamps. I believe this great piece dates from the 1890s. The only mention I could find for this business was from Cornell University Library, circa 1890 and 1891.

Stamp Holder

Stamp Holder

There were a number of presidential political lapel cufflink buttons in the lot. Among these was a terrific 1920 James Cox presidential campaign lapel button shaped like a rooster in fantastic condition. James Cox & future president FDR lost in 1920 against Republicans Warren Harding & Calvin Coolidge. And there was this cute little elephant lapel button cufflink for the victor Warren Harding, who died while in office and turned out to be one of the worst Presidents in U.S. history.

Cox Lapel Button

Harding L apel Button

The most rare find in the lot was a highly collectible William McKinley figural portrait lapel cufflink button. I could not found documentation on this portrait/bust figural button – I am not certain if it was for his first campaign in 1896 or second campaign for re-election. William McKinley was the 25th President of the United States, elected in 1897 and serving until his assassination and death on September 1901 during his second term.

William McKinley Lapel Button

Unfortunately, other bidders snagged most of the lots we were interested in, which resulted in an impulse bid by me towards the end that proved to be a mistake. This also led to the aforementioned snipe by David which I had coming and took in good stride. There were a bunch of pretty mediocre costume jewelry lots and before I knew it, I won the choice of these for $20.00. I had not looked these over very well and was faced with picking one out at the table in front of the crowd. None of them looked very appealing and after hemming and hawing too long, David was getting annoyed with me and asked if I wanted all of them for $20 a shot and if was going to take all day. My instincts were pretty much on target – the entire lot I won was a waste and I donated it to my favorite charity thrift store.

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