An Auction Proxy Bidding Strategy Gone Awry

barber-auction-signDonna and I had a plan that would surely secure the purchase of the collectible advertising piece at a price well below its actual value.  I was certain that the, although somewhat hastily conceived, strategy would place into my possession the beautiful, collectible and possibly rare Budweiser advertising lighted sign.  The scheme was so very simple; it couldn’t fail.

I routinely attend a Friday night auction in Sulphur Springs, Arkansas.  The small town is normally quiet but a weekly Friday night auction brings potential buyers from nearby towns flocking to the auction house.   As the building’s parking lot fills with cars and trucks the would-be buyers peruse the floor, tables and walls of the auction building searching for items which strike their fancy, and may fall within their budget.

Some of the attendees want to buy items at a price that would allow the prizes to be resold at a profit.  Those buyers typically have booths at area flea markets while others may be the proprietors of resale shops.  There are those however, who desire to own an item so that it might be added to a personal collection, or possibly be the start of a new collection.  Some of the items sold are more utilitarian and those slightly used washers, dryers, refrigerators and furnishings usually find their way into the homes of thrifty buyers.

Every potential buyer is issued a bidder number.  The number is transcribed onto a rectangular shaped card and the number on that paper card is unique to each bidder.  If a bidder is lucky enough to be acknowledged as the high and winning buyer that person must display the paper card and the number.  The auctioneer then calls out, “Sold,” and he identifies the bidder number and the purchase price thus making the sale final and official.

The auction has become, for me, not only a venue where deals may be found but also a place where I can talk with friends.  Donna and I have become friends and we frequently talk when items of little or no interest are sold.  Donna and I are often amazed with the steep prices paid and are sometimes equally baffled by what we refer to as, “a steal.”

It seemed to me as though everyone wanted what I desired, or so I recently told Donna.  “Either I have very good taste, or possibly there are those in attendance who simply elect to annoy me by bidding whenever I raise my hand filled bidder card.”  Donna and I laughed about my observation and she offered to conduct an experiment.  Donna said, “If you want, I’ll act as your proxy bidder using your number.”

The strategy mandated that Donna bid from a location that wasn’t in close proximity to me.  We felt that would further confuse those who might attempt to connect her with me and who sought to sabotage my efforts to procure a beautiful lighted piece of advertising, a Budweiser Beer sign.

The details of the plan were relatively simple and straight forward.  I gave Donna my bidder card and the two of us scanned the large room and a perfect location for my proxy bidder was chosen.  The spot allowed her to be easily seen by the auctioneer as well as by me.  As Donna took the card from my hand she asked, “How much do you want to spend?”  I thought for a second or two then responded, “$75.00.”

As the sign was described in great detail and with glowing accolades I felt as though several in the room were willing to pay practically anything to gain possession of the advertising piece.  I anxiously watched as the bidding began and was encouraged as the opening bid of twenty dollars was accepted.  That bid was placed by my co-conspirator, Donna.  Surely my limit of seventy five dollars would be enough to secure the item for me.

When the amounts of $35.00, $45.00 and even $55.00 were accepted my hope began to slightly dwindle but soon there were only two bidders, Donna and an elderly woman.  The card of the evil and ill-tempered opponent was raised bidding $60.00 then $70.00.

Donna once more lifted her hand and the card as she placed a bid of $75.00, the maximum amount to be paid.  My worst fear was realized as the elderly female bidder increased the bid to $80.00.  I stared at Donna hoping that she would look in my direction but her head only moved side to side as she alternated glances between the auctioneer and the other bidder.  Any attempt to gain her attention by raising or waving a hand would most assuredly be interpreted by the auctioneer as an increase in the bid amount.

My friend and proxy bidder later said, “it was as if a cruel and sadistic chill ran down the length of my spine causing my hand holding the number identified card to almost involuntarily raise and increase the bid; this became personal.”  With the customary strike of the auctioneer’s gavel and the words “sold to bidder number 31 for $95.00” the sign was secured for me, but at a cost of $95.00.

As Donna later explained her actions and her mission to defeat that old woman I said, “But Donna, you were bidding with my number and the purchase will be paid with my money.” I looked at Donna and with a smile born of guilt she shrugged her shoulders as if to say, “I don’t know what happened.”  I smiled, and although it was somewhat a forced smile I said, “Well, I guess we learned that, at least in this instance, it wasn’t personal and the other bidder wasn’t bidding against me.”

I now own the coveted lighted sign although the price paid does seem a trifle steep. The lighted Budweiser advertising sign now rests conspicuously atop the pile of other auction purchases in my crowed garage.  I tell myself that there will come a time when I’ll take that sign to my flea market booth and I sometimes fantasize about the elated reaction that a special buyer will someday have when they spy the ninety-five dollar auction purchase.

Donna and I are still good friends.  We continue to laugh about the exorbitant prices paid for items but every so often I recall the $95.00 sign.  I now keep my bidder number and card close.

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