Sunday, April 29, 2007

Lang's Discovery Auction Review

I am pleased to present a review of Lang's recent discovery auction, written by J.K. Garrett. It is a beautiful piece and I very much thank Jim for penning this.

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Albert Einstein and the Lang's Discovery Auction


J.K. Garrett

Albert Einstein observed that time can be a malleable commodity, stretching and compressing as the speed of an object varies in relationship to the speed of light. His views on time fluctuations at Lang's Discovery Auction are not recorded as he was not widely known to have been a dedicated tackle collector plus the fact that he has long since been deceased. I can report to you that the three hours allotted to review over 1000 heaps, piles, stacks, and boxes of tackle and tackle-related ephemera seemed to pass by in the same equivalent time it would take to barbecue a steak, medium rare. However time is measured, three hours is not long enough to properly examine 1000 plus lots of tackle.

The most beneficial, and at the same time difficult, aspect of the Discovery Auction is that only people attending the auction can view and bid on the items. There is no catalog, with items lovingly photographed, to peruse at leisure days beforehand. There are no pictures on eBay to puzzle over and prioritize and snipe at. There is only a list, available at the door for $3, which provides the skimpiest of lot descriptions. To my certain knowledge, unscrupulous attendees have tried to gain early access to Discovery lots the night before the auction as they were being unloaded from trucks by attempting to bribe, threaten and cajole John or Debbie Ganung. No one to my knowledge has been successful in this or any other attempt to gain unfair advantage. Not with John. Not with Debbie. Not once. Not ever.

When the doors open at eight o’clock a large cavernous room unfolds before you. Rows and columns of seats are located in the front with the auctioneer's podium foremost. In back of the chairs are long tables overflowing with tackle, the floor under the tables is inhabited by cardboard boxes of every size and shape. The lots are numbered sequentially, each lot composed of from one item (like a Kentucky reel) to several tackle boxes containing hundreds of items. You enter the swarming throng of other Discoverees overwhelmed by the universe of unexamined tackle knowing there will not be, cannot possibly be, enough time to give each lot the attention it deserves. What is amazing is how courteous these people are with each other. Many are strangers to each other, some are old friends or enemies, men and women, old and young, large, medium and small, and some who are not sure or care which category they fall in. However, without exception each one is in a great hurry to begin the search for treasure.

To compete effectively, what is needed is a plan and a friend. My plan was to concentrate primarily on reels at the Discovery Auction, though we avidly collect all categories of tackle. My reasons are these: If an item were both rare and valuable, as well as in good shape, it would properly be placed in the catalog auction. Although I dearly love and collect many lures that are imperfect, they are purchased in the hope that some day they can be upgraded. No one I know would be satisfied with a whole collection of place holders. Rare and valuable reels in the Discovery Auction, on the other hand, may only be missing an end cap or have a filed footplate or be missing screws. I know there are purest, conservative collectors who are horrified at the prospect of altering a reel in any way from the condition found. But I tell you truly I can not be made to admire an individual who would deny an otherwise beautiful old reel the proper identical part that is missing or broken to make it whole again.

I pass by boxes with only recently manufactured reels or only common reels, or boxes that have only broken or corroded reels with only the memory of their perfect beginnings. I go from one lot to the next, reaching across tables, squatting on the floor amidst the boxes, pardoning my way through the throng, allowing access to those who ask it or merely need it. Herein lies my advantage, my edge over most of the other people I see: I use both hands to search through the items and softly dictate the details of my discoveries to my faithful friend, my helpmate, my wife. Others must keep a list in one hand, pencil between their teeth, and reserve the other hand for the search. The freedom of movement this gives me helps my speed enormously and the expanded detail I am able to record on deserving lots will pay big dividends.

Let’s be clear. This is my tackle obsession (there is no other fitting word), not any interest in tackle on the part of my wife that has led us to this place. She has volunteered to accompany me to this unexceptional and remote corner of Massachusetts. The long drive, expensive accommodations and purchases, the hours of boredom for her, the sorting and packing, constitute the search for my Holy Grail, not hers. The results of this crusade will leave her unimpressed and exhausted. And yet here she is again, helping me in every way she can think of, just as she has helped me in the past. In this fluorescent-lit unromantic cavernous room, amidst these piles of used and often dirty and oil encrusted reels, dressed more for hard work than appearance, she has never been more beautiful to me. I have never loved her more than in that moment.

As I side step down the aisles, paper lots are another category I spend valuable time considering. I covet the knowledge, the information, the data they contain, regardless of the stains or smudges or smears as long as their secrets are intact. My goal is to make it as quickly as possible through the 1000 plus lots so I can have time to refine and prioritize my choices. Deliberations are made in chairs near the front my wife has marked with our names on paper tags. Other people use different strategies, sitting at the back of the room where they can keep an eye on other bidders and flash their bidder’s cards quickly so others will have difficulty knowing who their competition is. I care only about making certain that the auctioneer cannot miss my raised card. I will leave the card up until either I have won, or the price has passed me by. I take two aspirins to quiet the mutterings of dissatisfied muscles and joints unaccustomed to the awkward positions required during my search. The free coffee provided by the Ganungs is restorative and deeply appreciated. Three hours equals one hundred eighty minutes equals ten thousand eight hundred seconds has flown by and I am finally ready, barely, for the auction to begin.

My first win comes early with lot 6. It is a group of seven reels including a Yale German Silver No. 88 King Duz-Wine in the correct box. The footplate has some solder but that can be repaired or the footplate replaced, as I have a beater version at home. There is also a Montague Catalina in the lot in excellent condition. The lot goes for only $95. This is a great start.

Lot 58 has thirty reels, including two nice Meisselbachs and a Hendryx I need. The bidding ends at $115.

Lot 177 has ten reels, including a huge wooden Meisselbach ball bearing reel in excellent condition. The lot goes for $155.

Lot 285, seven reels including an Airex Vic reel in correct box. The reel is hard enough to find in decent shape, the box impossible. $150

Lot 315 is a German Silver version of a Yale fly reel. It is almost identical to reels produced earlier by Rochester/Carlton. $120.

Lot 406 consists of 10 reels, among them a Montague Gulf, 100 yd hard rubber reel I need. The lot is sold for $125.

Lot 414 has a Meisselbach Neptune in the correct box, a print block, and a line spool. It goes for a mere $55.

Lot 481 contains twenty miscellaneous lures and a mix of early paper, including a Meisselbach advertising sheet, a trade card from Hall Line Works and a damaged Jamison trade card. My bid of $150 takes the lot.

Lot 570 contains four reels, two knives as well as a large, spring-loaded metal bobber in the original box with instructions. This lot goes for $100.

Lot 714 contains eleven reels including a raised pillar Kiffe Reel. It is not perfect now but I hope to make it so. The lot goes for $45.

When the Discovery Auction ends, I have won 18 lots containing reels, lures, paper, gaffs, floats and other miscellaneous unidentified items buried in the boxes, perhaps known only to God. The buyer’s fee must still be added to the hammer price but I know I have done well, even so.

There are still two days of the catalog auction to come as well as the individual tables of tackle the attendees have brought for direct sale. I wish I could tell you that these auctions and table purchases were the end of my purchases on this trip. However, even as I sat in our room that night reviewing my purchases, I couldn’t help wondering what the occasional antique shop or flea-market might hold for me as we found our way, leisurely, home.


Abe Housihoots said...

There is a reason the Airex Vic is hard to is a poor excuse for a reel. I bought one at a flea market thinking, this should make a nice spinning reel with the nice large, narrow diameter spool. I completely disassembled it, cleaned it, lubed it, reassembled it and tried it out in an actual fishing situation. There are no ball bearings - anywhere. It was work to reel and retrieve compared to ANY modern day reel. The half bail worked OK using a finger pick-up but that was it. I sold it at a show in the Dells as soon as I could.

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