By Chad Erichsen
It’s a Wednesday evening, I receive a Facebook Calendar notification of an event starting right now on Facebook Live. I click on the screen and I’m brought visually into a room with a rustic wood table with a simple white kitchen alarm clock.
Where am I, you might ask? I’m watching an online auction hosted by Early Bird Auctions in Corning, New York. Cody Dylan Palmer, the auctioneer is working tonight. He is the site administrator along with Jesse Balliett, and Airrick Hall. Cody is auctioning some great items as he scans the room showing tables with everything from oil cans, early calendars, paintings, cast iron toys and much more. I noticed a windup Bing Toy Car on one of the tables and I was hooked to stay tuned.
The first item Cody starts are two porcelain Pennsylvania license plates from 1912 and 1915. “Who will start me on choice? How about $5 and go?” Cody says, as a few members start texting bids. Jim has a $55 bid, followed by Kara with a $75 bid, all while the kitchen alarm clock is ticking down the 10 minutes. Kara ends up winning with a high bid or $95 right as the clock ticks down. Cody asks if Kara wants one or both.
Kara texts back just the earlier one from 1912.
Does this all sound familiar but yet foreign? I couldn’t agree more. Coming into the traditional world of purchasing antiques, I’ve used the typical methods, local auctions, antique stores and eBay. However this new media is really quite exciting.
Susan Backer the administrator of Ephemera Paper Books Photos Antiques Live Auctions Backers Vintage Bargains tells me the social media aspect of these sites makes all the difference. She runs a group site on Facebook where you can talk with ephemera collectors, sell ephemera or do a live auction. She has been in the trade since she was eight years old when she sold paperback books with her friends a la lemonade stand.
Her group site shows an old snapshot of her as a kid squinting with glasses selling some reading material. Susan cut her teeth back in 2016 setting up her page. What started with just her has grown to over 3,400 members. She also sells retail at the Mad Hatter http://madhatterantiquemall.com/ and The German Trading Post in Adamstown, Pennsylvania but this medium is her passion.
When I spoke with Susan recently, her main challenge was recruiting people to try the site. This business model is mostly word of mouth. Susan’s customers on digital media are like family as many of the same people are just as passionate about ephemera items. Many times they’re more an expert on particular topics such as rare books.
Cody with Early Bird Auctions feels the same way. He has many repeat users and buyers who are always looking for particular collectibles or antiques. Cody also got his start at an early age, selling a guitar to the Smithsonian. After time spent in the Air Force and other jobs, he finally decided to pursue his passion: antiques and collectibles. But how do you pursue your passion in a small town in Corning, New York? Reach out digitally using social media. Why does it work? Cody says, “If you strive for quality and consistency they will come.” This motto shows itself true as Cory and his team have seen some impressive numbers in 2018 with a Chevrolet light up service sign selling for $2,500 and a Civil War era flag hammering at $2,000.
Key benefits from auctioning/buying online:
No buyer’s premium. In many online auctions you may expect to pay 20 percent or higher on items you purchase online. With Facebook Live auctions, you pay for what you bid plus shipping.
Shipping costs are lower. Many of the online auction houses use third party shipping once you win your item(s). They drop it off at a premium shipping facility, and they mark up the shipping cost to make a profit. With Facebook Live Auctions, the individual auctioning is the same person shipping.
Little worry about fakes or reproductions. From experience, many of the frauds are called out by the buyers if the auctioneer is unaware. This makes it more appealing to both sides with mutual respect.
You can see the item in 360 degrees. In many of the online auctions today you only see photos of the items you’re actually bidding on. Using Facebook Live, one can ask to inspect the item in all angles to see condition, markings or what might be original or missing.
Generally the auctions are self-policing. If someone gets out of hand and is rude, most members are going to shun them, or ask for the behavior to stop. If an auctioneer is not honest or has someone pushing up a bid, they get banished from the site.
Auctioneers can spend more time talking about the inventory and less looking for bidding. With a silent text bid, it’s easy to see whose bidding.
Challenges with auctioning/buying online:
LAG, latency or delay – this means, the amount of time between something that happens in the “real world” and the display of that event on the viewer’s screen. Sometimes the amount of time of delay is based on the amount of users live using the stream, causing a delay.
Lack of tools built into Facebook for auctioning. The technology is early but effective, more tools will come in the future.
Recruiting new people to join. As I mentioned earlier, it’s a new medium and hard to gain newer members unless it’s through word of mouth.
I encourage you to give Facebook Auctions a try. Keep in mind, you don’t have to bid, maybe you can just enjoy watching for the first time. You can find these and many similar collectors groups on Facebook if you search under Explore/Groups and type the category you’re interested in. You’ll find groups from collecting Coca-Cola to fabric and sewing. Sit back and enjoy, it can be addicting and I guarantee you’ll meet some fellow collectors like yourself.
Chad Erichsen is a graduate and Certified Appraiser of the Asheford Institute of Antiques. Additionally, Chad Erichsen works with Auction Charleston Antique Mall, in Summerville South Carolina. He can be reached at email@example.com
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