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The E-Sylum: Volume 27, Number 5, February 4, 2023, Article 15

THE POLITEST AUCTION THAT EVER WAS HELD

Julia Casey writes:

"I found this last night and thought readers might like it. It's an entertaining read from a New York Times reporter who covered the Thomas Elder sale held on September 30, 1905. This article appeared in the October 1, 1905 issue. Attached is my transcription."

Thank you! Great find. -Editor

  THE POLITEST AUCTION
THAT EVER WAS HELD

______

A $2,500 Sale of Curios at the
Collectors' Club ______

AND NOT A CROSS WORD

______

Bidders All on Friendly Terms and a
Model Auctioneer—Some of
the Prizes
____

Elder first sale NYT article Seven, seven, seven, droned the auctioneer. Seven dollars bid—sold at seven.

No gavel was employed to accentuate the decision.

Oh, wait a little, spoke up one of the dozen persons seated in the main room of the Collector's Club, in West Twenty-seventh Street. I may bid a little more on that coin,

All right, answered the auctioneer, who was seated on top of a table at one end of the rectangular room, with a smiling woman stenographer flanking him on either side. After a brief pause he resumed unmoved: Are you ready?

In a moment, rejoined the bidder, continuing to search through his notes without the least attempt at haste. Finally he found what he looked for and spoke up:

I bid eight.

Eight, repeated the man seated on the table. Eight, eight—sold at eight.

And this was spirited bidding. For the Collector's Club where the public auctions of rare coins, unmatchable bills, and stamps out of date are held, is the one spot where competition, though of the keenest, has been deprived of its sting and bitterness. It is a sort of arena for numismatists, philatelists, archaeologists, and other possessors of costly and full-blooded hobbyhorses.

The great men—the men who can afford to pay for abstract values—rarely appear in person. They all have their representatives employed for this particular service, and these representatives are on familiar terms with each other, meeting week after week, now on this and now again on the other side of the ocean—wherever the coveted rarities are put under the hammer or offered for sale privately. They are eager on behalf of their patrons, but not being hobbyhorse riders themselves, they practice their rivalry without ever growing hostile over victories or defeats.

eldersale1905 Yesterday afternoon they were gathered where Thomas L. Elder was putting up several collections of coins, medals, and paper money at auction. There were 852 lots in all and they went at prices ranging from 12 cents up to $60. Sometimes the bids advanced a cent at a time, and then again somebody would cooly say:

Fifteen dollars isn't too much for that.

Then good-bye, some other bidder would say with a laugh, and from the jovial auctioneer's lips dropped the perennial:

Fifteen, fifteen—sold at fifteen.

One man represented more than a score of customers, some of whom wanted some one coin while others were anxious to get anything rare, whether coin or stamp or bill. All were designated by pseudonyms invented to mask their identity, lest rival agents discover them and supplant the services of the acting representative. There was Texas, who gobbled up anything and everything, paying fancy prices without a protest.

Sold at three, the auctioneer would announce.

Put it at four-fifty on Texas, the agent would request. I save him 50 cents at that.

Half a dozen times the bidders and the auctioneer fell into joking until they lost track of where they were. Then it might happen that they would go back a few numbers and sell them over again to make sure that no one was forgotten.

  eldersale19052

They had got to the section headed Hard times tokens, &c., and an agent generally referred to as New York had secured at a fabulously cheap price—$1.70 or something like that—a token catalogued as Low 163, Howell Works Garden, a rose. Rev. Token. Very rare. Good. He was so eager and elated that he insisted on having the piece delivered at once. Just as he got it another agent, New Jersey, broke in:

Why, I made a mistake. I would have bid more for that coin. It was just an oversight on my part. It's worth $5.

Oh say, give him a chance, pleaded the auctioneer with New York. Put it up again—be a sport.

It's all right as far as I'm concerned, replied New York, scratching his head. But how about the other man—the man I bought it for? I guess I'll have to stick to it.

And to think it was just an oversight, grumbled New Jersey regretfully.

Among the rare pieces that caused the bids to leap upward dollars at a time was a New Hampshire cent of 1776—a tiny bit of old copper honored in the catalogue with the epithets priceless and unique. It was knocked down at $60.50 and the buyer of it looked as if he had won a free pass to Paradise.

A United States silver dollar minted in 1794 brought $62.50, although defective, and the catalogue said that but for its defect it would have been cheap at $175.

In comparison it seemed to the outsider that a good thing was almost given away when an Egyptian octodrachm, from 260 B.C. went at $58.50. Thirteen dollars and fifty cents was all that anybody cared to pay for a Roman gold coin that was seventeen cycles old and was adorned with a splendid bust of Antonius. One of Uncle Sam's one-dollar pieces of gold but forty years old brought $21, and $25 was paid for a half-cent piece of 1841 that was dented on the edge, which the catalogue said was extra rare.

All, in all, the sale realized about $2,500.

To read the complete article, see:
Catalogue of first public auction sale of coins, medals, and paper money. [09/30/1905] (https://archive.org/details/catalogueoffirst00elde/)

Shevlin E-Sylum ad 2023-06-11 Continental Dollars



Wayne Homren, Editor

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