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You Can't Judge a Book by Its Cover

Site of a recent auction in Greenville, PA.

Pulling up to the auction site in Greenville, PA, I was a little discouraged that I had made the drive. The porch was crumbling on the old house, the front entrance was taped over, the paint was peeling, and bushes were grown up all around it. It looked like one of those houses you see on the edge of a field, seemingly abandoned and likely filled with rat turds and cobwebs. Getting closer, I noticed a number of old chairs lined up on the lawn and you could practically hear them creaking in the wind. But when I finally found my way inside, I was pleasantly surprised. There was quite a collection of furniture inside, all of it quite genuinely old, well-made, and in good shape. No cobwebs or rat turds to be seen.

In fact, the floors were in great shape, the doors and their trim shone, and the windows were clean and let it wonderful light. The banister on the central stairway was solid and very handsome. I remarked to another patron that the house looked just like it must have when it was built, most likely in the mid-1800s. And a grand house it must have been – with a porch around two sides, bay windows upstairs, and the aforementioned large windows letting in plenty of light.

In any case, there was a wide range of belongings being auctioned. In addition to the numerous bedframes, dressers, cabinets, and sewing tables, there was a tremendous amount of jewelry, and an impressive amount of various household goods, collectables, ephemera (in tremendous condition), and books. In the large bookcase, I noticed that nearly all of the contents were either 19th century or early 20th century books. I didn’t stop to peruse all the titles but did spy a lovely 1890 copy of Louisa May Alcott’s Life, Letters, and Journals, potentially worth $100. The auctioneer used the “your choice” method for auctioning the books – bidders were bidding for the right to first dibs to choose as many books as they wanted at the hammer price for the lot. They could choose 1, 100, or all of them and the final sales price would be the winning bid times the number of books chosen. Unchosen books would mean that there would be subsequent rounds of the same offer. The first round went for $22.50. I did not see how many the winner chose, but he (and some others, apparently) had already examined the books and were satisfied there were at least a few worth $22.50 each. I am sure there were.

One of the early lots was a box described as having “books, magazines, and other ephemera, including a copy of the Scarlet Letter.” I hadn’t a chance to examine the box, so I wasn’t sure what was in it. When the bidding climbed past $200, I assumed that it must be an early (or even the first) edition of the Scarlet Letterthat was the reason. Later, II had a chance to approach the winner and ask. He explained that he was a “paper guy” and that the box held numerous early railroad timetables and maps, all in excellent condition and it was more the rarity, quantity, and quality of these items that caused him to bid it up.

The top lot while I was there (I didn’t stay for the whole thing – these house content auctions last all day) was a barber pole that went for $550. The bookcase that held all the books went for $425 – it was quite large and had both shelves and cupboards, with notable carvings throughout. Other furniture went for more modest sums - $125 for a dresser with harp mirror on top, $225 for a fine glass front display cabinet.

Vintage curved front dresser with harp mirror: $125

Handsome 4-shelf glass display cabinet: $225

Smalls and collectibles included a cast iron dog door stopper for $55, 4 vintage lunchboxes (including a Sesame Street) for $45, a box with old Kodak cameras for $20, and a bean pot for $7.50.

Cresswell Auctioneers handled this auction and did an excellent job, with plenty of speakers so that hearing the action was easy, numbered furniture in the house, and plenty of staff to keep things moving along well. People came and went while I was there but there were at least 100 people at a time, and probably up to 200. Bidding was fairly spread throughout the crowd, with not much evidence of dealers picking up everything and seemingly more individuals buying what they liked or collected.

The crowd gathers at the start of the auction.



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