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By Cheryl Chan and Jennifer Liao


Skinner's Motion Pictures,

Posters & Ephemera Auction

Why do people go to auctions? The cynic immediately says, "Oh don't be ridiculous. There are certain items that won't be sold anywhere else BUT at an auction. It's not really a choice."

Well yes, granted that, but haven't we seen a lot of fire and passion at auctions? Individuals who haunt auction houses faithfully, making that regular pilgrimage to the world of bidding? A wonderful story by L.M Montgomery comes to mind - that of an old man who goes to auctions regularly and buys whatever piece of junk he can afford, as long as he gets to take part in the thrill of auctions (he comes back with a baby one day but that is a whole new story altogether).

So I think the non-cynical answer is that the idea of competition makes whatever is being finally obtained all the more valuable. In a world where we no longer have to fight for anything, the closest we get to that primitive sense of sheer conquest must be that of the auction room, where total strangers battle it out for a piece of the spoils. And I think too that that quality of auctions makes memorabilia an especially popular source for auctions.

Skinner's recent auction of movie posters from the silent film era onwards, and the huge popularity of that auction, proves that point especially. The world of Clark Gable, Gone with the Wind, James Cagney and Marilyn Monroe, all seem to go back to a time when going to the movies was special and every star was precisely that - an untouchable, demi-god like star.

For objects of such an era, how can we just lay them out in stores to be prodded and poked by the multitudes? No, they belong in the auction room, where only the select individuals who care enough about these golden girls and boys can have the chance to prove their worth by fighting for these objectsin the battle-ground of the auction room.

How Auctions Work

With the advent of Internet auction sites, it may seem that traditional auction houses will soon be going the way of the dinosaur. But Skinner's Motion Pictures Posters & Ephemera auction on Nov. 20 proved that the traditional auction venue is still popular, and in fact thriving in these modern times.

Offering 579 lots which consisted of movie posters, theater prints and "ephemera," memorabilia that is not produced to last long (i.e. cigar wrappers and baseball cards), the specialty auction drew an audience of approximately 200 guests, either registered bidders or simply curious onlookers. On the day of the auction, auction-goers can either bid by raising numbered paddles, or, if they are unable to make the event, call in a few days prior to the auction to express interest in a particular lot. The day of the auction, a Skinner employee would physically make the bids for the prospective buyer who would direct them over the telephone.

A lot is usually offered at the specialist's estimate, and if there is no interest, the price will be lowered to two-thirds of the estimate, and then finally half the price. If there is still no interest, the item will remain unsold. The auction house does not own any of the items that it sells; rather, they sell on consignment, and receive a seller's commission from the original owner and a buyer's premium of 15 percent from the winning bidder. These revenues go to defray the costs of advertising the auction, photographing the lots, creating the catalog and paying the staff. Despite the rapid pace of the auctioneers (usually 80-100 lots are sold an hour), due to the high number of lots, the auctions can last up to 5-6 hours.

Skinner hosts over 60 auctions a year that sell items ranging from American furniture to couture. All auctions are free and open to the public.

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