For whatever reason, I never attend auctions. I'm not talking about the on-line varieties like Lang's and Crossroads, which I generally enjoy and participate in regularly. No, I am talking about the local auctions that occasionally feature fishing tackle. There's just something depressing to me about bidding on things you want, losing, and watching someone else walk away with the item in front of you. At least when I lose an item on eBay I'm not forced to watch it taken away like a spoil of war.
But when I got the flyer from a local auctioneer about the estate of Raymond Crowe, a former ORCA member, I figured I had to attend. I knew Ray in passing (I believe he was a former Coast Guard guy) but hadn't seen or heard from him since around 2007. I knew him to be a pack rat, and sure enough the flyer discussed over 500 reels, dozens of full tackle boxes, etc. Lots and lots of tackle, including 34 outstanding Kentucky and Kentucky-style reels.
I called my friend Buck on the phone and we decided to drive over together. Buck's literally an expert on auctions, and attends several a month. He's always showing me unbelievably rare items he's picked up for $10 at some auction in the middle of nowhere. I tell him every time I attend an auction, I'm sitting between Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, both of whom have decided they want the exact items I want.
I know I can't afford the Meek #4 and other rare reels, so I concentrate on trying to pick up one good reel. Today I have my sights set on a Talbot. I don't have one and would like a nice, honest, original Talbot to put in my collection. There are five Talbots in this auction so I have five chances, I figure, to be disappointed.
We head out early on Saturday morning and make the 75 mile drive to Madison, Indiana, where the local auctioneer Mike Taylor will be holding the auction at the Jefferson County 4H Fairgrounds. It's not the best labeled place I've ever been, and we blissfully drive right on by the first time before realizing that we've gone to far. We arrive about an hour and a half before the auction begins and only see about ten cars. Will this be my lucky day? Will I be returning home today like a pirate pillaging a helpless village?
I walk on to the auction floor and the first people I see are all ORCA members. In fact, there are so many ORCA members that it's like a mini show. I run into Bill Muth, who's here to check out all the Horton Bristol reels, and Carl Schaum, who I figure is looking for Indiana reels. Soon I meet and greet fellow ORCAns Randy Anderson, Jerry Schemechko, Willis Logan, Jerry Soete, Neil Kauffman, Mike Hines and Doug Carpenter, among many others. Some have come from as far away as Oklahoma and Wisconsin.
It's really refreshing to see so many friendly faces, even if it means there will be no bargains today.
I preview the auction with Buckley and see a lot of interesting reels, but only a few that I'm going to set my sights on. Believe it or not one of the reels I'm most interested in getting is a Union Hardware "Samson" take-apart reel marked Horrocks-Ibbotson. I have five different versions of the Samson and this is one that has eluded me. It's not a high value item but I'd be very happy to add it to my collection. I also see a couple other items I'd like to get.
The auction flyer did not lie. There is tackle literally everywhere – tackle boxes, fishing rods, lures, minnow buckets, etc. are overflowing from every crevasse. From a 16/0 Fin-Nor to a palate of Heddon Sonics, there is something for everyone. By the time the auction is set to begin, there are about 75 people in attendance, split pretty much 50-50 between locals and ORCA members. Ray Crowe's estate will do pretty darn well.
The auctioneer Mike Taylor precedes the auction with a commentary. He says in his forty years of auctioneering, he has never (and he emphasized never with "not once") come across a more helpful organization than ORCA. He literally heaped praise on the Old Reel Collector's Association, and it made me feel good how many members stepped up to help him and to publicize the auction on short notice (he had a very limited time to clean out the estate and get the sale ready).
The auction begins with non-tackle items and there is a palpable sense of disappointment in the air. Not for Buckley, though, as he has a series of booths at an antique mall and is very knowledgable on all kinds of antiques. He's picking up bargains left and right while the reel collectors are throwing all kinds of side eyes at the auctioneering, ready to get into the tackle.
The auctioneer makes a bold choice by starting with the rods first. There's some nice rods in hindsight I probably should have bid on, including a really rare Harnell black spun glass fly rod, but the only one I bid on is a Tracey-Wells trade spinning rod. I drop out at $20. It's too early to get crazy, even if it is a cool rod.
The first big reel to come up is the Fin-Nor 16/0 and it brings a healthy price. It's a sign that there will not be a ton of bargains today. The rods don't bring a high price, though, and a couple sell well below their actual value (the best being a really nice Browning Magnum bait casting rod which went for nearly nothing).
The reels come up in huge table fulls and it is "choice" bidding, meaning the high bidder gets to pick as many reels as they want off the table. The first bidder is in at around $90 and plucks off a couple of nice reels, and the number slowly declines as the pile of reels gets smaller. Buckley jumps in and picks up two very, very rare spinning reels in boxes at about half their value. Maybe there will be some bargains after all …
I look over the pile remaining and see the one reel I wanted still there, so I join the bidding. I drop out at 40 but the guy doesn't choose my reel. I'm back in again, but for some inexplicable reason the bidding goes up to 60. Weird. This guy also chooses another reel from the one I want. I bid again, and lo and behold, I win at 40. I quickly pluck the minty L.W. Holmes fly reel in a leather bag from the table and show the auctioneer my number. If I am patient, I could pick this reel up in this condition for $60-$70 on eBay, so I come out ahead. I'm going to fish this reel. Buckley tells me I've done good, so I'm happy.
Two or three tables full of stuff go quickly to the rabid collectors in attendance, but I refrain from bidding as although there are many nice reels, I am holding all my cash to take a run at a Talbot. Besides, I'm not a good reseller. I buy reels to resell, take them home, start to like them, and … well, that's how you get a basement full of reels.
About an hour in I am staring at a reduced pile of reels, when I see a rather amazing sight. An item I figured would have gone for $100 on choice is still on the table. I impulsively decide that although it wasn't something I marked, I'm going to try and pick it up. I get in at the bidding and there is not much interest left. I win at $25, and cackle as I take away a Heddon Spin Pal first model box. I am sure people were put off by the fact that the wrong reel was in the box, but the first generation boxes are super, super rare. I know I can pick up the proper reel for about $25, and Ben Wright has the combo going for $200+ on numerous occasions, so I know I've done well. Neil Kauffman, who has the best collection of Heddon reels this side of anywhere, says I have done very, very well.
I do the same thing again when I see an item I was sure would be gone sitting on the table. It's an Airex Spinster Deluxe kit, and I jump in impulsively and excited by the auction atmosphere, keep bidding beyond where I should have. I end up going $20 over what I wanted to, and pick up the combo. The main reason I wanted it was that it has a Sears sticker on the side of the Mark 5 Bache Brown reel, which I've never seen before. Afterward, Bob Halver the Airex expert tells me it's only the second Airex "trade" reel sticker he's seen, so although I probably overpaid for the set I did get a rare if not very desirable trade reel for my collection.
Finally, the table lot with the Samson Utica reel comes out and is quickly depleted by bidders. Not surprisingly, the Samson is still there. I don't want to pay a lot for this reel, and am afraid the auctioneer will drop the ball and auction the remainders off in one lot. But I get a lucky bid accepted at $15 – I think the only time the auctioneer dropped below $20 on choice all day – and come home with it. I am very happy.
The heavy hitters come out next. A hush comes over the place as the Meek #2 hits the auction block it comes in at $900, which is a solid place. The Crowe estate is going to do well today. I had the pleasure of having Talbot expert Randy Anderson help me to identify which Talbot reel to go after; it's #28 on the list so I have some waiting to do. A nice Talbot #3 ($1100) is followed by a B.C. Milam Frankfort #4 ($900) and Talbot Niangua ($700) and B.F. Meek & Sons #3 ($700). A Meek #3 Freespool ($675), Talbot Niangua ($350), and a B.F. Meek & Sons #25 Louisville ($450) hit the gavel before the first big surprise.
It's a Kentucky Line Dryer in a two-piece box from Shelbyville, Kentucky, and I am a bit shocked it goes for $500. A Meek & Sons #25 ($300), Horton Meek #4 ($375), B.F. Meek & Sons #4 ($350), Bluegrass Reel Works #3 ($700), and Bluegrass Reel Works #4 ($600) finish. One of the best reels in the auction, a B.F. Meek & Sons serial number #2039 ends at $700. It's a nice deal.
The belle of the ball comes up in the form of a Talbot #2 (Serial #145) tournament special. It has the tournament handle but also the original handle. It attracts a lot of interest before ending at $2300. The new owner is happy and deservedly so – it's a rare, rare reel and a great buy. I'm very happy for him.
More reels hit the gavel: Milam & Son Rustic ($150), Meek Bluegrass #33 ($125), Meek Horton #3 ($200), B.C. Milam #3 ($400), Meel Bluegrass Reel Works #3 ($300), Bluegrass Reel Works #3 ($275), Bluegrass Reel Works #3 Jeweled ($400), South Bend 1131A ($75), a B.F. Meek #5 ($900), and somewhat surprisingly, a Gayle brass fly reel for $125.
It's time. Lot #28 comes up, my German Silver Talbot Star. The bidding starts at $50 and I'm in from the beginning. By $100 it's me and one other bidder. I have silently told myself I won't go past my predetermined limit for it, and my heart begins sinking as it begins to reach that number quickly. The bidder in the back goes right to the edge of my limit. I sit and think for a second before raising the bid $10. Nervous silence … and it's mine! I ended up paying about retail for it, but unlike eBay I was able to hold this one in my hands, and have it checked out by others, too. It's all original which is important to me, and runs like a fine watch. I am super happy.
After a weird Pflueger Skilcast ($45) is sold, we come to the most interesting reel of the Crowe collection. It is a tournament casting reel that has everyone baffled. I spend a lot of time looking it over, and conclude it has the end plate of a Meek bait casting reel, but the front plate and internals are familiar but not easily placed. It's clearly been put together by a supremely talented reel maker. I figured it would bring $200 but the bidding pushes it to $650 before the lucky winner gets it. I get a chance to see it again and while kibitzing Neil Kauffman exclaims, "This is an early Jack Welch!" He's absolutely right, of course. It all falls into place. There was something very familiar about the workings of the front plate, and as Neil points out all the Heddon hallmarks it becomes clear this is a reel made by Welch after he left Meek for Heddon (and took a bunch of parts with him), which explains the Meek end plate. The lucky buyer (you make your own luck in this game, folks) has gotten the true bargain of this auction. It's just an incredible reel, and I'm super happy for him for recognizing the quality before the identification came through. Properly identified, who knows what this would have brought?
We end this auction with a Talbot Star with the wrong handle ($200), a Meek #2 ($350), two tiny Dillenders from Lexington ($60 each) and a Bourne & Bond in an unmarked box ($90). All in all not a bad day.
I get up to pay for my four items and am very happy. I got my Talbot, got a chance to spend the morning with a bunch of old friends, and got to see Ray Crowe's estate do well with his tackle. Not a bad auction after all!
-- Dr. Todd