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Ripoff #45

Great Canadian Ripoffs

Auction Fakes - Great Canadian Antique Rip-off 101

Great Canadian Heritage Trash Sure

People have driven hundreds of miles to be here...

Just what everyone waits for all year: Great ad, great estate sale, great antiques all around, right out of an old log cabin at a remote site!

But never underestimate the wily auctioneer...

Fabulous...

Fabulous when you arrive, after finding a parking spot among the scores of cars that jam up both sides of the country road. We talk to lots of people who've come to get special items; some have driven hundred of miles to be here in answer to the ad...

Fabulous 1860s flat to the wall, super 1860s corner cupboard full of 19th century china ware, 1820s tall case clock, 1870s hanging cupboard, 1850s wash stand, 19th century chairs, pioneer bench, etc... No wonder many auction-goers left home in the dark to be here early so as not to miss the first items...

It was all in vain... They should've stayed in bed...

The disquiet sets in almost immediately. Where are the signed bugles and trumpets that were advertised but are nowhere to be seen...?

Where are the painted sleds people have come miles to bid on...? The 24 pane flat to the wall...?

And what are all those mysterious tags on all the good items before the sale has even begun...?

Auctioneer Rip-off #1 - The Dumb Employees

The auctioneer and his partner have already started selling minor trash items - a common technique to give late comers time to get here before good items are to be sold - so you can't ask them what happened to the missing items? Not for five or six hours as few auctioneers take a break...

So you approach his wife, busy signing up arriving bidders, and her assistant, both of whom have been intimately involved with setting up the sale, for weeks... if not months...

"Where are those signed bugles, you advertised?"

"Sorry I don't know anything about the sale items. You'll have to ask Steve where they are.." And she rushes off... But Steve will be too busy to be interrupted for five or six hours... Hmmmh...

Other staff members we corral about other items we can't find are dumb too... "You'll have to ask Steve."

Nobody knows anything, just Steve. What a dumb bunch... After all this time they don't even have the tiniest inkling about where even major items are...

You wonder how can they keep proper financial records for hundreds of items, for their client, when they seem so out of touch with even the key items...

Auctioneer Rip-off #2 - That Rotten Relative

You learn from other upset auction-goers that the missing items, and all the tagged things, were not in the sale anymore! The auctioneer had started by saying that a family member, a daughter from California had arrived, suddenly, and tagged all the stuff she wanted to ship back to the States with her and withdrew them from the sale. Sorry, said the auctioneer, out of my control...

Trouble is, no one believes him; he's done this before. Auctioneers use the family took it back routine over and over, even though these sales have all been months in the planning, and been advertised for months as well. Why the family change of heart the day before? That has all the credibility of the bride stopping the wedding the night before... Ok, we admit Jennifer Wilbanks did it...

In fact reputable auctioneers all demand a legal document, signed by the consignee, guaranteeing that once he comes on board as the auctioneer no further items may be withdrawn from the sale, to protect himself from false advertising, to protect his investment - he doesn't want to be left selling only the garbage - and angering his auction-going clients with missing items pulled at the last minute. Common sense, and legal documents, are there to make sure relatives pull items long before the selling contract is signed, not weeks, or months later... like days before the auction!!!

There's a better explanation - pre-sale.

Unscrupulous antique dealers hear of great estate sales, have clients with money, and so approach the auctioneer privately days before the auction, do a preview, and make him an offer he can't refuse.

This of course it totally against any kind of ethical conduct by an auctioneer. His fiduciary duty to his clients is to get the best price through an open bidding process. Private pre-sale deals sabotages that.

And his auction-going clientele, who come expecting honesty and fair play, without hidden agendas, secret deals, and phony bidding etc. After all they're investing time, money (gas), and effort into coming to attend his auctions. Without them an auctioneer is dead...

Actually he may even strong arm a worried client into complying with a pre-sale, saying "Look we should take the offer even though it's unethical, because, believe me, you're not going to get that kind of money tomorrow at the auction." He's lying again, of course, cause he doesn't know, but likes real money, here and now...

Good antiques are rarer to find; collectors will pay more to get them. Better to take a good offer than chance a lower result from a bidder at auction. Clients may swallow and go along. After all its money they're both after...

Auctioneer Rip-off #3 - Personal Hoarding

Maybe it was no pre-sale at all - this time - but hoarding. Auctioneers are appraisers too and will often pick out choice items for themselves, which they appraise cheaply, and which they then resell in other markets for big profits.

So who's really trucking all the tagged stuff down to the US may not be the evil daughter of the family, but the auctioneer and his hairy assistant, down to the high paying antique markets in the US, and laughing all the way to the bank, at these cheap Canadian bidders... Leaving the garbage behind... for the auction-goers...

Screw the auction goers who've trusted you, and driven hours, burning up expensive gas to come and bid on your items.

It's that daughter's fault, from California, you know the one that suddenly decided she likes blowing those signed bugles and trumpets that have been in the family for years, and on the auction block for months...

But hey, too bad so much good stuff - almost all the good stuff - is gone. Looks like lots of good stuff left... Right?

Auctioneer Rip-off #4 - Seeding an Estate Sale

People look for estate sales because these are supposed to be the place to find family treasures that have come on the market as a group and have value because they're supposedly in untouched antique condition and haven't been doctored by antique dealers. More people drive farther, and bid higher, at estate sales.

Trouble is, just about everything you see in the pictures left, did not come out of this house, or this estate.

Lots of people said, "Hey, I've seen this before." And so they had...

It was trucked up by the auctioneer, himself, from his barn where he has accumulated stuff that just will not sell. And he has salted it in among all the estate items hoping the bounce effect, from being seen in good company, will add interest and bidders to items he couldn't sell before...

How do we know. Because like many other hard core auction goers we have seen these items at his previous auctions, some on multiple occasions...

That is why many become like old friends... You say hello when you meet again. After all they may be the only regular auction goers you recognize at a remote auction....

You commiserate with the light green flat to the wall: "So sorry to see you've lost another pane of glass since we last met." It's hard to ignore the pathetic bleating of the carnival horse: "Won't somebody please take me home this time!" You stop to listen to the apple ladder and the windows jabbering on. They've been propped up together before... It's almost a weekly outing for them...

The other windows and ladder, and the flat against the tree are also old friends. And the slant front desk sports new gouges every time we see it... And the Eastlake secretary...

If you drive them far enough, put them into better company, perhaps they'll sell this time.

Seeding an advertised estate sale, without announcing that you will be including additions, is unethical in the extreme, but all auctioneers do it.

Well, you may say, at least they're old, probably antiques...

Tags,
tags,
tags...

Everywhere!

The Real Deal

Look at it all; all those tagged items. Dozens. You can't bid on any of them. Why would the mysterious daughter from California suddenly want all this old stuff now? Why didn't she panic, months before, and withdrew it when it was slated to go on the auction block? Where is she going to get a truck big enough to send it to California and pay for it? Where is she going to find room for all this stuff in her present home? Rent a garage we guess... Seems like she's crazy to do all this trucking from one garage to another, from one side of the continent to the other...?

Auctioneer Rip-off #5 - The Phoney Bidder

The only good furniture item left was a bow-fronted 16 pane pine corner cupboard, said to be 1830s, with conditions; new boards on the back.

The auctioneer hyped it up and started the bidding at $12,000. People looked at each other. No one budged. Down the price came, $8,000, , $6,000.

"OK, $5,000 then. I have a left bid of $5,000. Who'll give me six?" After a long song and dance about how good it was and threatening to have it carried outside if bidders wanted it. No one budged.

"Well then, sold, for $5,000 to the absentee bidder." (Lots of people who can't make the auction leave an absentee or left bid with the auctioneer.)

The auctioneer had asked for 12, said it was worth 12, but settled for selling it for $5,000... to an absentee bidder...

Or did he?

Lots of auctioneers have proxy bidders phoning in phony bids (now you know what the roots of that word are) to bid up people on site. The auctioneer has to be good though, and gauge when the on site bidder will cut out. If he drops out suddenly then the auctioneer is out of luck unless he cajoles him into bidding again, breathes a sigh of relief, and say you beat the phony, errh... phone bidder....

Was it a phony bid? People said the auctioneer had been caught doing it, more than once, with a friend on the other end of the phone.

He let it be know that an absentee bidder had left a bid of $12,000 for the cupboard... Did he really? Or did the auctioneer end up with it again and is loading it on the truck with all the other loot from the auction? Who will ever know?

Auctioneer Rip-off #6 - The Repro Man

Auctioneers all have repro men they use, furniture makers who will recondition, improve, replace any and all parts of real antiques with all kinds of old materials to make them look "real old" even though they're newly made or mostly newly made.

The flat right is one such item, with a back of old boards sure enough, but better look closer.

Those nails are square heads, sure enough, like from the nineteenth century. Trouble is they were not nailed in a century and a half ago. Maybe last week... See how the wood is freshly crushed around the heads, and how there is no rust bleed off into the adjoining wood that there commonly is around antique square head nails that have been in place since the nineteenth century.

Oh you say, I see the stains around the nail holes. And right you are...

But there are no longer rusty nails in those holes that held these old boards where they once were in the sides of a pig sty or cow barn.

All the shiny new square heads are nowhere near the stains... And neither are all those brand new hammer marks...

Repro men have a stash of old nails around just for this purpose, to fool the unwary. I mean why else use old nails to disguise new work?

Is this why people drove hundreds of miles to attend this estate auction, which the auctioneer called the "Highlight sale of the year."

All the things that were being talked about at the auction among the seasoned pros.

Now, can I interest you in going to another Great Canadian estate sale?

There's one coming up... Burrp...

Go to Jewelry Rip-off
Go to Paperweight Rip-off

Update: One Week Later

Well a week later, at an antique show, we finally saw the 24 pane cupboard that we couldn't find at the earlier auction... Apparently it had been in some back part of an outbuilding. We didn't see it sell.

But when we saw it at the antique show we instantly knew it was the exact same flat that had been listed on the antique estate auction the week before. Why? Because it had 24 panes, which are frankly rare to find...

So it had to have sold, or had it, really?

Because we found it in the sales booth of the auctioneer's assistant and partner...

How did he end up being the successful bidder?

Funny business...

Oh, and another thing...

In his booth we met another old friend - the same bow front flat to the wall that the auctioneer had so loudly and bumptiously auctioned off to the winning anonymous absentee bidder at the auction the week before. It now sported a tag asking for $8,900.

You know "Sold for $5000 to the left bid." You know to that anonymous buyer who had "Left me a bid of $12,000, for the fabulous corner cupboard."

So the absentee bidder wasn't absent at all, but turns out to be his assistant and partner, who had been standing three feet in front of him, logging the auction sales, as he said it. They both knew it was a scam... to catch a live one...

Auctioneer Rip-off #7 - The Staff Bidder

Auctioneers will be the first to tell you that they don't allow "shill bidding" whatever that means. But...

In fact, auctioneers allow all kinds of people to bid on items at their auctions, including: staff members, business partners, colleague auctioneers, as well as the auction house itself, who is putting on the auction, and believe it or not, even the consignors who are putting the items up for sale at their auction.

A few auctioneers will announce that staff members are allowed to bid to buy for themselves. Most do not.

And all auctioneers - even the most prestigious art auctioneers - certainly do not advertise, or announce, that they will bid you up - that you are being bid up by the house, not a fellow buyer/bidder - or that consignors - the owners of the sale items - are bidding you up, not a competing buyer.

Even the most prestigious auction houses put their own stuff in their auctions and bid you up to get the price they want you to pay. So you are actually haggling over the price with the owner, and his inflated idea of what the value of his item should be, not another keen buyer who wants it. In fact no one else - at all - wants it at the price you are being bid up by the house, the owner of the item...

With all this highly underhanded bidding going on how can any auction-goer ever know that he is paying fair market value for an item, set by an honest competition with another real buyer?

You can't...

The market place is so manipulated, behind the scenes, that it is impossible to tell whether or not you are being victimized by people whose sole interest is wringing as much money out of a passionate buyer as they can. And they certainly use every technique at hand to do so and to hide from you the fact that they are doing so.

So many people end up buying things, not for what the market place says they are worth, but for what the seller says it's worth through shill bidding, in collusion with the auctioneer who gets a bigger cut the higher the item sells for.

Many times you are bidding against the auctioneer, the auction house, and the seller - not another bidder. You have absolutely no way of knowing...

So much for the market place determining value. It does, but it is obviously not "fair value."

Try and get the investment back when you come to sell an item for which you paid far more money than the real market place said it was worth?

You'll discover, when you try to sell, by how much you overpaid on an antique painting or piece of furniture which was supposed to accrue in value....

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