Like many things in life, my experience of participating in an auction is mostly gleaned from TV and movies. Here, specifically, the scene in North By Northwest where Cary Grant acts crazy so he can escape the bad guys by being dragged away by the cops. Also, the Seinfeld episode where Elaine ends up way overspending her boss’ money on JFK’s golf clubs because she can’t bear to lose to Sue Ellen Mischke, the Oh Henry! candy bar heiress. So when I participated in my first live, non-eBay auction this weekend, I carried in a few lessons based on these. First, never trust Eva-Marie Saint and second, set a max you will spend and don’t go above that no matter how much other people are bidding.
The auction in question was of the personal collection of Alan Wilder, previously of Depeche Mode, and included memorabilia, instruments, clothes, rarities, etc. I watched a segment of his movie describing why he was selling all this stuff, because personally, if I had a giant country home, I’d keep my junk forever, and it’s not like he needs the money, but I never really understood. I think the answer is, “eh, why not?” I seriously thought most things would go for thousands, because there are millions of crazy DM fans out there, but I decided to pay my £1 to get a bidding number just in case.
In fact, most things didn’t. But the problem was, when I sat down to really calculate the most I would spend, I found that it wasn’t going to be enough to get much. I set myself a top bid of £200. That means $321 plus 15% commission plus a foreign currency fee = $377. I couldn’t decide if that was crazy high for a vinyl record or poster or so low as to fall into the “why bother?” category. But it’s really the most I could spend without hating myself.
I also set myself these rules:
1. It can’t be an outrageous price for what it is (like a guitar pick or something).
2. It has to be something I would really want and not, “hm, that seems like a bargain – grab it!”
3. It can’t be something I already own, just now signed by Alan Wilder and from his personal collection.
4. It can’t be something, like a radio promo, which I once handled millions of and saw as worthless. It would make me feel like a sucker. More like a sucker.
Plus, a lucky thing happened and I found that a limited number of physical catalogs (they were also available as a PDF online) could be purchased on eBay for £5 (with shipping and everything else, it somehow ended up as $18). What was so great about that? Simple, it virtually eliminated the “but I must have something from this auction” feeling which otherwise might have had me spend $377 on a guitar pick. Each time I would feel that during the auction, I’d think, “but I have the catalog as a souvenir!” It is very glossy, by the way, and came all the way from England.
So the last rule was perhaps the most important:
5. You do not have to actually purchase anything.
So I got online and proceeded to sit through seven hours of auction, with just two breaks. I don’t really know how these guys do it. It was one auctioneer and by the end, he seemed very, very tired. I think he just wanted to get out of there. But most of the time, I wondered how he was still functioning after hours of describing acetates and promo items and urging people to get their bids in faster.
The first couple of hours were just musical instruments and as tempting as it might be to get the synthesizer that was used in the Devotional tour, I don’t really have $15k or the space. Then came the clothes and the hilarious part was that they were sold like you might want to wear them. The waist size of the pants were described or the fact that it might have a tear but could easily be repaired, or that it might come back into fashion. I mean, are people really going to walk around wearing Alan Wilder’s Levis from 1988?
Then came the part I was really waiting for, the music. It was funny to see how there was a consensus over which songs people cared about and which ones they didn’t. Anything from Black Celebration or Music For the Masses went really high and anything from Songs of Faith and Devotion had to have its price lowered. But thanks to all my rules, I did not fall into this trap. There was a test pressing of Policy of Truth which no one seemed to want at all, for instance. But I don’t even like that song! I couldn’t imagine framing that and telling people I paid $300 for it. So I passed. Most things I really wanted went swiftly and for a lot, which I guess means I’m in the mainstream of DM fans. Too bad.
What did I bid on? Well, this. This was the thing I wanted the most and there is a story behind it, because when I was in college, I would trade International students for their versions of DM cassettes (I worked in a record store; it was easy to get a cheap American version to trade, and they always liked ours better). The other thing is, I love both these songs and I really liked the artwork. So I bid. My heart was pounding! It was really exhilarating, much more than I’d have thought. A couple of times I was in the lead but then they’d say “fair warning” and someone else would bid. Finally I hit £200 and someone bid £220. I started to think of rule #1 – are two cassette singles really worth $450? I couldn’t do it. It sold at £220, gah. The worst part is, the screen would either say that it had sold to someone in the room or “Sold to the Internet.” I’m on the Internet! It didn’t sell to me!
By the way, every time they said “fair warning,” which was about 1,000 times, I’d get a Van Halen earworm.
Soon after that, they moved on to gold and platinum records, which were out of my range, and some other things, and got to the posters. It was odd seeing posters that I once had on my walls… and I still may have them. They cost $10 at the show or in the Village. Surreal. This poster, for instance, dominated the wall of my freshman dorm room.
I also had this one.
Even without that, I really couldn’t see myself buying a poster. Where would I put it? The days of my room or apartment being plastered with rock posters are long gone. After my mid-20′s, I used to keep them in a storage space which was eliminated when I redid my kitchen and now I don’t know where they are. I also used to have some up in my office, but they don’t work as well in an elementary school computer lab as they did at the record label, y’know? But I did bid on this one, because it was pretty (love the light blue mountains in the background!) and minimalist and the song means something to me. Evidently, others thought so, too. It went for about $800.
So I came away with nothing. But here are some things I learned from the auction:
1. Depeche Mode fans have a lot of disposable income.
2. Alan Wilder had more leather jackets than I had even supposed.
3. Six plus hours of listening to someone auction things off in a Manchester accent is a kind of torture.
4. Even rich people use Ikea frames. Who knew?
5. Next time I go to a show, I am going to buy one of every t-shirt, put the lot away for 20 years, and then sell for thousands.
Most importantly, I’ll always have the catalog.
Title comes from:
Depeche Mode – Everything Counts