In an earlier post I talk about our bi-weekly trips to the Victoriaville region of Quebec where we would buy a truckload of antiques in the rough over a two or three day period and then race home to sell the stuff the following Sunday at the Harbourfront Antique Market in Toronto. We did this regularly for a ten year period starting in the mid 80’s. We very soon got to know and like the people we dealt with there, and early on gained their respect by never going to the Tuesday night auction in St. Hyacinth and bidding against them. They would ask if we were going and we would always say that “no this is your territory, and we are happy to buy the stuff from you tomorrow.” The fact is they were fair with their mark ups, and if you did attend they would do their best to dissuade you from ever coming back by continuing to bid you up until you paid way too much for any item you bid on. This policy and the fact that we would always negotiate by simply asking what the best they could do on a piece assured that they considered us “a class act” as they would say, and probably saved us a lot of money in the long run.
We regularly arrived on Tuesday afternoon about 3 p.m, having left home at 4 am to get us past Toronto before the rush hour, and giving us enough time on arrival to have a look around before hitting the sack at the nearby motel. Then we would be up and at em’ by 8 a.m. because that was typically when a “pick” would take place at one or the other antique centers.
By 7 am everyone would gather outside the entrance to the warehouse where beforehand the staff would set out all the newly arrived, unseen items in neat rows. Not only the things purchased at the auction, but also items brought in by pickers who independently picked the country side for the Antique Centers. It was always exciting to see what had arrived. Nothing had prices. Us buyers would circulate around sipping coffee and deciding what we would attempt to buy, and figuring out how much we could spend for it. Lots of private negotiations would be quietly going on. “O.K. I’m only after the clock shelf so let me get that and you can have the bucket bench” . Kind of like the nonsense that goes on before an auction.
The way it worked, and probably still does for that matter, is that at 8 am everyone would pick a number out of a hat. Enough numbers in the hat to cover everyone in attendance. Then whoever had lucky number one would go around with the seller and would have three chances to pick one item. This was done very quietly so no one else could hear. If you loved a wall shelf, but the price was too high for you, you could move on to your second choice, and if there was no deal there, you could move on to your third item. Buy it or not, it was then number two’s turn, etc. So considering that 90% of the stock was quite ordinary, it was important to get a good number or you didn’t stand a chance at getting one of the typically five or six things that were truly special and sought after. It worked well for the seller because if an item had been rejected a few times he could lower the price a little and see if that worked. It was tougher on the buyer because you knew if you didn’t go for the price, the guy behind you probably would. There was ways quite a bit of tension in the air.
I would always pick a number even if there was nothing that I was particularly interested in because if you drew a good number (especially number one) there was a good chance that someone was mosey quietly up to you and offer to buy it from you. This happened to me a couple of times actually. Typically the offer was a hundred bucks. So you made sure that you looked interested, and held your cards close to your chest.
After the best items were taken, everyone would disperse, breaking off into small groups where discussions of possible resale would take place. The seller would go around with a chalk and price the remaining items and the staff would start to bring them inside to be added to the stock there. It was a fine way to begin a day of antique buying.