Taking My Hacks

The Distinguished Auction – A Dying Breed?

Joe Orlando

Auctions have come to thoroughly dominate our hobby. There are daily auctions found on the Internet, through eBay and other sites, while there remains a much smaller group of printed, catalogue auctions. Historically, the printed catalogues were generated by only the elite auction companies and they catered to the high-end collector.

There are a select number of auction houses that have continued that tradition, offering the best of the best. While that may be true, there are a growing number of auction companies that are taking an entirely different approach. In fact, some of the auction companies that are still considered elite have started to veer from that traditional approach and now offer a much greater selection of items, items that are not really considered special by hobby standards.

What happened to the distinguished auction?

There was a time when every auction catalogue was "special" and collectors couldn't wait to see what treasures were coming to market. Now, there seems to be fewer and fewer items hitting the auction block that fit this description. At one time, these types of items dominated the catalogues. Today, it seems as if some of the auctions have a handful of these extraordinary items and the rest is... in all honesty... filler.

There are, of course, various reasons for this. There is much greater competition between auction companies today, so the exceptional material is being spread over more venues than ever before. In addition, the truly elite items are not emerging from collections like they used to. Even though the economy is down, the very best collectibles are still bringing big money and the people who own that material are usually not the type of individuals who need it.

In other words, it seems as if great material is getting "buried" at a much higher rate. The result is what you now see... a more limited number of blockbuster lots. It's hard to say whether or not this change in the auction approach is good or bad for the market, it is simply an observation but is a low-grade 1973 World Series program or a 1965 Topps Hank Aaron in a PSA EX 5 an auction-worthy item?

While I am a firm believer that the hobby would be better off if there was a more even balance between retail sales and auctions, many collectors seem to like the plethora of auctions. There is no denying the action, sense of urgency and fun auctions bring to the table. Some collectors simply like the competition and the auction process versus the straight sale.

There are other collectors who feel that the auction format provides comfort in knowing that others are just as interested in a particular item as they are. This is a bit perplexing to some, including me. For example, an item might be available for straight sale at $500 yet a collector refuses to buy it. That same item is placed in auction and, now, the lot closes at $2,300. Who was the winning bidder? The same collector who had the chance to buy if before the auction!

There is no doubting that some items, due to their scarcity or incredible appeal, are just better suited for auction because a proper price may be hard to establish but this is something that happens way too often. If collectors are better informed about a piece, they are usually more confident... which results in their ability to pull the trigger when an opportunity presents itself.

As long as collectors embrace the change where mediocre pieces are now becoming the foundation of some catalogues and the auction has become a method of selling versus a special event, auctions will continue to lose their luster.

Never get cheated,

Joe Orlando

Joe Orlando
Editor In Chief