The one thing I miss most about my job during this corona crisis is being an auctioneer. And not just because I love standing in front of a packed house.
Look, Heritage Auctions was way out in front on this whole social distancing thing. We’ve been conducting our auctions online for more than 20 years, longer than many other houses have even had websites. And every week – heck, almost every day – we’re still presenting the public with iconic collectibles, from coins to comics and fine art to coveted antiquities. Our bidding platform allows us to carry live auctions to any collector on the planet. And many of them still have live auctioneers.
That’s a thing we have never taken lightly, no matter the state of the world — guiding collectors through a catalog’s worth of treasures while researched experts and savvy investors wait for the next item, the next bid, everyone in the room wondering if your suit is so shiny because it’s really nice or really cheap. Standing in front of even an online-only audience that’s raising the stakes higher and ever higher on one-of-a-kind items is a truly unique experience.
The role of the auctioneer is only to facilitate these transactions, be it for a Joe DiMaggio rookie card or a meteorite. But honestly, when you’re selling the American flag that led the D-Day invasion, it’s difficult not to get excited; it’s a powerful feeling.
And as a great man once said, with that power comes great responsibility to present each item correctly. You also want bidders, whether they’re in the room or on their phone, to understand that they don’t just want a lock of Beethoven’s hair – I mean, everyone wants a lock of Beethoven’s hair, right – but they also need it.
To do that, you must be prepared to tell the tale of what you’re selling. You’re not just shouting numbers; you’re telling the story of each collectible, each relic. We’re not just auctioneers. We’re researchers who become storytellers who turn into specialists, no matter our areas of interest. For example, anyone I have ever eaten a meal with will tell you, at great length, that I am no expert on exquisite serving wear — or even proper table etiquette, if I’m being honest. But, when I call a Fine Silver auction, I have to be. No one wants to refer to a sardine server as a bacon server in public; that’s just monstrous. That’s why preparation is paramount – far beyond knowing the bid increments, having some witty banter at the ready and staying up on the latest bow-tie trends.
One of my favorite parts of being an auctioneer – the part that makes me seem smart — is being exposed to the most interesting items imaginable. Learning the stories behind every piece in every auction sinks in, affects you. When I’m at home spooning asparagus into my son’s Paw Patrol bowl, I long to wield an elegant pair of asparagus tongs and remove each spear from my Chrysanthemum asparagus serving dish with the precision only the artisans at Tiffany can provide. But alas, it is not meant to be.
My role is but to stand at the podium and extol the virtues of the material up for auction, be it a movie poster so rare, not even a copy of the film exists or a Triceratops skull. I’ve even sold a cannon. Not even the most illustrious members of my Zoom happy hour can top that.