Many years ago there was an auction house, here in Maidenhead where I live. It held an auction each fortnight, on a Saturday, with a viewing day on Fridays. I used to go there on the off chance of seeing something we wanted. It was great fun nosing around looking at everything – even if we had no interest in acquiring it.
One day I was looking at a desk we did not want and found a yellow copy of the Daily Mail lining one of the drawers. The paper was dated 23 January 1901 – the day after Queen Victoria died. The headline read ‘Our dead Queen’ and the remainder of the front page was taken up with a rather flattering etching of Victoria. I explained to the man on duty that I didn’t want the desk but I would like to buy the newspaper. This caused some consternation because the newspaper hadn’t been catalogued as an item in its own right (indeed, I think I was the first person to have noticed it) so it wasn’t in ‘the system’. Eventually the matter was resolved informally by slipping the man a pound coin which he promptly pocketed.
On another occasion we spotted a sofa that we were definitely keen to buy. My wife and I had devised a method to make sure that I controlled my competitive urges rather than being swept along by the excitement of the bidding process. Being competitive, hell bent on winning, is not a good idea at an auction because you risk paying too much for something. Our method was simply this; we would agree in advance what something was worth to us and on no account was I allowed to exceed this figure.
My wife and I therefore agreed a price for the sofa and off I went to the auction. I was pretty good at sticking to our self-imposed rule which meant, inevitably, that we sometimes failed to buy things we rather fancied. However, this was a sacrifice worth making. The alternative was to incur my wife’s wrath whenever I returned, triumphant that I had ‘won’, by exceeding the cut off point.
So, when the sofa we very much wanted came up for auction, I stuck to the rules and failed to buy it. As I turned to leave, somewhat dejected, the next lot was announced. It comprised three items; a sit-up-and-beg gentleman’s bicycle (with a chain guard, three gears, and painted in British racing green), a free standing Victorian mangle and a butter churn. I didn’t particularly want any of these items – except possibly the bicycle – but no-one opened the bidding. No doubt on the rebound after my failure to obtain the sofa, I bid the asking price confident that these desirable objects would be certain to attract other bids. Nothing happened and in a flash the hammer came down and the three items were mine.
Forgive me if I don’t describe my wife’s reaction when I got home with the news that I had failed to buy the sofa but was the proud owner of a bicycle, a mangle and a butter churn.
Sadly, the bicycle was eventually stolen (it used to tick reassuringly as you rode it) and the mangle and butter churn have recently been sold on eBay and carted off to new homes after over 30 years in my garden.