MCCULLOUGH: Auction proves people will buy anything

Nate McCullough

Nate McCullough

What to buy when you don't need anything

I've always believed that people will buy anything in the right setting. Sunday I got my proof.

Saturday night I was reading one of the papers that publish out in my neck of the woods and saw an ad for an auction. Not having been to an auction in ages, I decided to go.

I expected it to be crowded, but not as crowded as it was. When I pulled into the parking lot, the number of pickups told me that word had gotten out that among the items for sale were about 30 guns.

I registered and went inside. I had my eye on a couple of pieces of jewelry for my wife and daughter and an old World War I German helmet for myself. I soon found it would be awhile for those things as the guns were going first, which I had sort of expected. Not planning to buy a gun, I settled in to watch the fun while I waited.

Now I'd been to an auction before, but it was very specialized (sports memorabilia) and it was not run by a good ol' boy who was part used car salesman and part televangelist. I knew having a slickster with a Southern drawl was going to make for a fun time.

The crowd was just as entertaining -- and easy to peg.

There was the hunting and shooting crowd who was there just for the guns -- and who disappeared quickly when the guns were gone. Complementing those guys were the pottery and jewelry girls, there on the lookout for the next gazillion-dollar item to show off on "Antiques Roadshow." Filling in the gaps in the seats were a few folks who were amateur "American Pickers," quite a few folks like me -- clearly out of our element and not carrying enough cash -- and then what I called the Old, Rich, Country Crowd. You know the type -- they slept on a cot in the back of a store and ate cheese and crackers for 70 years while saving every penny they ever made so that right before the auction they could dig up a mayonaisse jar full of hundreds so they could buy a Harley-Davidson and about $4,000 worth of guns.

I'm not kidding about the Harley and the guns. A guy next to me did just that, and this is a place where you pay immediately following the auction. It can be cash, check or credit card, but I figured the guy had to drop about $12,000 before he walked out the front door.

And that's all fine. I don't begrudge the man that. If he and his fellow Old, Rich, Country boys lived wisely and can afford to buy motorcycles and $1,000 Dirty Harry pistols on a whim, that's his right.

But what did fascinate me was the one thing everyone had in common -- they wanted to win. They didn't care so much about bargains. They cared about winning. It was much less shopping and much more like gambling. Racing is probably even closer to the truth. The auctioneer would even call, "Let's start out at $100, aaaand GO!"

And they went.

They bought all the guns, even the ones that looked like they were ready for the scrap heap. All the jewelry -- mostly costume stuff. Boots and bonds, tickets and tables. They bought tools and trinkets and whosits and whatsits. Old barrels, basketballs and polka-dotted bowls. If it was for sale, it went to somebody, with the exception of one of those plastic M&M guys and an old poster. One thing the auctioneers couldn't identify, so when a person in the crowd told them what it was, they gave it to him.

I don't know how many bargains were had. My unofficial guesstimate was about 40 percent paid exactly what they would've paid in a store, about 40 percent paid way too much, and maybe 20 percent got deals, although now that I think about it, it was probably closer to 10 percent.

I went home empty-handed by the way. I couldn't compete with those guys, especially when the focus was not on buying things at a reasonable price but just beating the other guy.

Maybe I'll fare better one day. But I'll have to start filling more mayonaisse jars.Email Nate McCullough at nate.mccullough@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Fridays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/natemccullough.