It’s easy to become overwhelmed very quickly when you arrive at a large in-person cast iron auction. Yards and yards, tables and tables, of all of that gorgeous iron! And many people who are just as determined as you are to snag an excellent piece at an excellent price. Now I’m not talking about an auction that just happens to have a few odds and ends of cast iron; I’m talking about a big collection that is being auctioned off. I’ve surmised that this seems to be the case when a person or family decides that the collecting days have stopped. Another large auction is held at the Griswold & Cast Iron Cookware Association (GCICA) at its annual convention. There, you have the chance to see many serious enthusiasts really get down to business to snag some highly collectible pieces.
The first large auction I attended in person was fantastic – many bids, many pieces, many people, two auctioneers working in two different areas at the same time. It was at a farm. Several hundred pieces of iron, in addition to all sorts of other things. I didn’t know a soul, and I didn’t really know much about auctions; I had only bid at online auctions. There was no preview of pieces; the auctioneers just got right to work. I got caught up in the excitement and ended up buying 60+ horribly crusty rusty old cast iron pans that needed an enormous amount of refurbishing. I don’t recall what I paid, but I do recall that there were only two of us really intent on the iron pieces. We basically took turns bidding each other up. At the end of the auction the other bidder said to me, “there are no friends at auctions.”
While that purchase helped me to learn how to restore vintage and antique cast iron cookware, it was a months-long arduous process. Some of the pieces didn’t amount to much once they had been cleaned – flaws had been buried under layers of crud. I learned that I should factor in the time it would take for me to clean a piece when I was determining what to bid.
Next, I “attended” a large live cast iron auction, online via Proxibid. This meant that I was able to see the auction on my computer as it was taking place, and I could place “live” bids remotely. I purchased more than I intended; I felt the prices were good and I wanted to take advantage of that. At the end of the auction, I paid the invoice and then waited to find out the shipping cost – the pieces were going to be retrieved by UPS and packaged by them and delivered by them. Oh my goodness. It was going to cost hundreds of dollars to ship the pieces. I asked the auctioneer to hold the pieces a short time, and when a friend was driving near where the pieces were stored, he kindly picked them up for me.
I resolved that if I was going to bid online again at a large live auction, I would be sure to factor in the high shipping costs when deciding what to bid. The other issue, of course, is that you can’t preview the pieces; you are relying on photos and video and what the auctioneer says. Sometimes the auctioneer knows about vintage cast iron and sometimes the auctioneer does not. There is no substitute for you previewing the piece you intend to bid on.