Knowing Your Business: Potter & Potter opens a world of imagination

By Sara Jordan-Heintz

Posters and prints; books and manuscripts; movie and music memorabilia; magicana; coin-op and gambling; circus and Wild West — all collectibles to be found through Potter & Potter Auctions, a Chicago-based auction house operated by father/son team Sami and Gabe Fajuri.

The company’s raison d’etre is to offer rare and coveted paper Americana, ephemera, art and popular culture relics to the discriminating eye of the connoisseur. The duo is backed by a staff of 12 employees who render their expertise in cataloging, graphic design, photography and the logistics of getting the collectibles from Point A to Point B.

Behind the Scenes of Potter & Potter

Sami and Gabe Fajuri, owners of Potter & Potter

Antique Trader: Is there traveling involved with your work? Do you ever go and inspect a collection first?
Gabe Fajuri: I travel constantly, including trips to inspect collections before consignments. ‘American Pickers’ is a made-for-TV ‘reality’ show. I live that show — for real. Barns, basements, attics, storage lockers, warehouses, homes, haylofts, and everything in between are where we find material for our auctions.

AT: What makes you different or stand out from other auction houses?
GF: Focused catalogs, detailed research, a staff that cares — we do not want to be ‘all things to all people’ — we would rather specialize in a few areas. We’re also known as the auction house that sells magic memorabilia — we essentially own the category of magic.

Paths to Business Partnership

AT: In your own words, could you tell us a little about you and your father’s professional backgrounds?
GF: I received a degree in English from the University of Michigan with an intent to go into journalism or publishing after graduation. I essentially fell into the auction business as a result of my love of magic. Having collected magic memorabilia since the age of 13, and paying part of my way through college by selling magic collectibles on eBay, I was hired to help with a massive appraisal project in 2005 – the task was to assess and appraise one of the largest magic collections in the world (which happened to be two miles from my house).

After finishing the appraisal, I helped conduct an auction of a portion of the collection, which was extremely successful. A year later, my dad moved to Chicago and we incorporated Potter & Potter in 2007. Our first sale was from the very same collection I helped appraise.

Sami was a lifelong stamp collector and paper collector. He was an attorney by trade, but ran a stamp auction in Michigan as a side business for approximately 15 years. An inveterate collector, after selling his personal stamp collection, he broadened his interest to other areas: ephemera, books, prints, and tobacciana. He does not do any traveling [for our business].

Ins and Outs of Business

AT: With you and your father having the last name of Fajuri, how did the company name Potter & Potter come about?
GF: It’s a translation of my last name, Fajuri.

AT: How does selling through Potter & Potter work?
GF: Consignments come in or we pick them up, we catalogue them and sell them. Standard auction procedure.

AT: How does the purchasing process work?
GF: Auctions — both live in our saleroom and online.

AT: How often do you hold auctions? What are some of the themes?
GF: We conduct sales once or twice per month, and each auction is centered on a main subject or theme: fine books and manuscripts, entertainment memorabilia, magic, coin-op, advertising, circus, etc.

Tips About Trends

AT: What fees are associated with buying?
GF: A 20 percent buyer’s premium.

AT: After a sale, how long does it take for a consignor to get paid?
GF: We pay within 45 days, but more often within 30.

AT: What sales and pricing trends are you noticing? Are there categories that are lagging and others that are surging?
GF: Furniture and general antiques are trending downward. We have found that ‘creepy’ and unusual items tend to do quite well for us — i.e. Halloween and horror related items, oddities, and the like.

Memorable Moments

AT: What’s the most expensive object that has sold through Potter & Potter Auctions?
GF: A three-sheet poster of Houdini in the Water Torture Cell. The poster brought $114,000 – a world record for a magic poster, and the second most expensive magic item ever sold at auction. The anonymous winning bidder participated by phone.

[The 1912-era poster was printed in London and depicts one of Houdini’s most iconic escapes – locked upside down and underwater in the Torture Cell.]

AT: What is the oldest item to sell through your company?
GF: Hard to say. We don’t sell true antiquities, but we regularly offer books and manuscripts from the 16th century.

AT: What is the most exciting element(s) of working in this type of business?
GF: New discoveries. It’s awfully exciting to find something you’ve only read about — or better yet — to discover something you never knew existed. Handling items of true historical significance is also a real thrill.

About Potter & Potter

Furthermore, the company’s headquarters is 3759 N. Ravenswood Ave., Suite. 121, Chicago, Illinois. Business hours are Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

To learn more, visit potterauctions.com. The company’s telephone number is 773-472-1442 and email address is info@potterauctions.com. Follow Potter & Potter Auctions on social media: Instagram: @potterauctions; Facebook: www.facebook.com/potterandpotterauctions; Twitter: @pnpauctions

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