Pickers Auction brings bargains to downtown

Published 10:33 am Monday, March 23, 2015

LS0322 Pickers Auction B

Going once. Going twice. Sold!

With those magic words, buyers at Pickers Auction Company in downtown Elizabethton get to claim the new treasure they have just purchased.

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Larry Vaughn operates Pickers Auction, something he’s done since the first of the year when he took the auction over from the Corner Nest Antique Store.

Every Friday, he plays host to dozens of people who gather at the auction house in the old Carter County Ford building on E Street, ready to place their bids on antiques, furniture, glassware and other assorted items that catches their fancy.

Everyone is looking for something different; while some scout out things to add to their own personal collections, others are intently looking for items to repurpose for resale.

The auction draws people from all around the region who come out to see what special finds Vaughn will have for them during the week’s sale. Friday is usually the night, but occasionally some special sales are held on Saturday nights as well.

Marvin McKinney makes the 1-hour trip from Bakersville, N.C. each week to come to the auction in search of antiques, specifically antique oil lamps.

“It’s like taking a walk down memory lane,” McKinney said, as he browsed the tool selection before the auction started. “A lot of the things he has are things I grew up with, like that old mowing blade there. Before weedeaters, that is what you used to trim your yard.”

Curtis Huskins of Stoney Creek doesn’t travel quite as far to the auction, but for his wife and him, it is part of their weekly routine.

“We started coming for the novelty of it,” Huskins said. “My wife talked me into it and now it is something we do. We go out to eat and make a night of it.”

While Huskins doesn’t have a specific item in mind when he comes to the auction, he browses around until he finds something he likes.

“I set my limit and I bid for it,” he said. “If I don’t get it, it’s alright because I didn’t have it when we came in.”

By buying random box lots, Huskins has found some pretty unique items. In one box lot that he snagged for a mere $2, he found an ornate Jewish prayer cloth used by rabbis to cover their head during prayer.

“That was awesome,” he said. “I didn’t know it was in the box.”

At another auction, a box filled with Christmas items no one wanted was added to his box lot at no additional charge. After taking the box home, he found a very nice surprise hidden inside.

“I thought I had emptied the box out, but I noticed it was heavier than an empty cardboard box should be,” Huskins said. “I pried open the bottom of the box and a silver serving tray was sitting in there. No one knew it was in there.”

Patty Keeney came down to Elizabethton from Banner Elk, N.C. for her first trip to Pickers Auction.

“I saw some things online and thought it would be nice to come,” Keeney said. “I just like picking through things to find that interesting piece, something you couldn’t find somewhere else.”

Part of the appeal of the auction for the regulars is the chance to meet and make new friends through the sales.

“There are no grumpy people here,” Huskins said. “You can make a lot of friends and get to know some interesting people.”

But Jeff Sams, of Bristol, offered a slightly different perspective on friendships at an auction house.

“Before and after the sale, you can be friends,” he said. “During the auction, it is every man for himself. If you want something, you better bid on it because that is how you are going to win it.”

Sams, who calls himself a “junker,” says he looks for different items that can be fixed up and resold.

“I like digging around in the box lots because you don’t know what you will find,” he said. “I like to take a lump of coal and turn it into a diamond.”

One of those “diamonds” was an old steamer trunk he purchased for $25. After a little loving care, he resold the trunk for $80.

Vaughn hosts two different types of auctions: antique auctions that feature antiques, collectibles and other “high-end” items; and box lot auctions. Often mixed in with the antique auction, they feature a variety of items grouped together in boxes that sell for lower prices.

“Those are two completely different types of auctions,” Vaughn said. “The antique auctions are more relaxed and move at a little bit of a slower pace. We bring the items up to the front to display them and people will bid. For the box lots, the auction is a lot faster paced.”

This was certainly the case on a recent Saturday sale. The auction house was filled with prospective buyers who browsed the items to be put up for bid before the auction got going.

As auctioneer Mike Duckett prepared to start the first session of the night, he gave the crowd some advice on bidding in a box lot sale.

“This is going to go fast,” Duckett said. “So if you find something you want, jump in and hold on.”

With that, the auction was on, and once it started, there was no slowing down. Duckett pointed out items and called out prices. Bidders waved their number tags in the air and calls of “yep” from people in the crowd echoed across the room. In just a matter of minutes, the first table of boxed items was empty – sold out – and it was on to the next one. The bidding, yelling and buying continued throughout the evening until every item in the building had a new owner – all within a matter of a few hours.

Duckett, who works as an auctioneer four nights a week, attended an 80-hour course to become an official auctioneer. While the class taught the basics of running an auction, there are just some things that can’t be taught in a class, he says.

“You have to get the crowd into it and make them want to bid,” Duckett said. “You have to keep the auction moving, because if things drag down, people will get bored and they won’t bid. Over time, you kind of pick up your own chant, set your own pace and do your own thing. All auctions have different styles and it’s important to remember that.”