I attended my first tool auction last Saturday, and like most (adult) auction-goers, I was caught up in the potential for bargains (there were a passel of Emmert vices on offer…but sadly, no bargains on that front). But the auction also induced a touch of melancholy.
It used to be that auctions and antiques shops put me in an almighty snit. You see, I was dragged (likely kicking and screaming) to a lot of both when I was a kid; my mother’s home is overflowing with antique furniture, tableware and decorative items from all eras – and more things to put on a wall than she has walls to put them on.
But to the best of my recollection, I’ve never been to an auction in situ, and with family members present. This one took place at a patternmaker’s shop that was just a few blocks from my house. The business had been in the family for three generations, and inside was many tons of well-preserved machinery, workbenches (some of which had the aforementioned Emmerts attached), piles of wood, box lots of hand tools, measuring and marking equipment, the largest Vernier calipers I’ve ever seen, pattern pieces, rolling carts, drills and drill bits, braces and brace bits, straightedges…. There was also a lot of scrap metal – so that brought out the recycling folk along with the woodworkers.
I planned to bid on only four lots, so I spent some time talking with other auction-goers as I waited for “my” lots to come up. I’d say most of the stuff in the sale went to good homes, and will be used for a number of years to come – as it should be. But as the auction-goers walked around from table to table, lot to lot, the family of the late owner walked with us. So I got to watch the widow’s face as some items sold for what I’m guessing was barely scrap value – such as a Fay & Eagen 36″ cast iron band saw for just $650. It was heartbreaking. And to make matters worse, with the shop closed, that’s another empty business space in my inner-city neighborhood – that, too, makes me sad.
So while I’m on one hand pleased to be the new owner of a box chock full of calipers and dividers in all sizes (not to mention two goodies that were hidden underneath: a Starrett gauge with a reversible head – one for straight edges, the other for curves – and a Starrett rule with a protractor head), and the new owner of a nifty looking antique smelting pot for lead, on the other hand, I feel like I’ve done a bad thing by profiting from the breakup of a generations-old family business – and for so little.
But my mother will be pleased, for I now have far more calipers and dividers than I have hands to hold them or projects on which to use them – so I can’t make fun of her for buying yet another painting, another vase or another purgatorial Victorian couch.
Oh who am I kidding; yes I can (but I’ll probably feel bad about that, too).
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