CANTON, CONN. — On Saturday, July 12, we visited Canton Barn, attending its weekly auction for the first time in probably a couple, or more, years. Maybe we have not been back due to the fact that the last time there we bought a painted, cast aluminum horse, close to life-size, which once attracted attention on the front porch of a Connecticut country store. That horse rode to Newtown in the back of our pickup, and took up residence in the offices of The Newtown Bee. We tried hard, but we really never did find a good spot for that horse, as it always seemed to be in the way of something.
After a few months of coping with the horse, an ad attracted a lucky buyer and the staff watched, with smiles, as the animal took off down Church Hill Road.
Returning to Canton also reminded us of the days when we traveled to Hillsboro, N.H., to attend the auctions conducted by the late Richard Withington. Over the years he sold many great things from his barn, and you had to play his rules. To buy from him, you had to be at the auction; there was no other way to register a bid unless a friend went for you. And he was one of the last auctioneers to implement the buyer’s premium.
Richard Wacht, following in the strict footsteps of his father, has been running Canton Barn Auctions for the past 30-plus years, in partnership with his ex-wife, Susan, who has remarried and divides her time between the auction house and life as a professional photographer. She is also responsible for the row of homemade pies that line the counter in the food area of Canton Barn, pies that attract almost as much attention as the objects going up for sale. We happened to be standing near the counter when a man came by with a covered container and asked for a couple of slices to take home, as if he was in the neighborhood bakery.
Which brings up one of the house rules at Canton: you are not allowed to bring food or drink into the gallery. Hotdogs and hamburgers are charcoal cooked to order, chips are plentiful, and all manner of drink is available. Plus the pies.
But that is just the start of the auction rules at Canton Barn. There are no phone bids, no left bids and no online bids; you must be there, ala Withington. And there is no TV screen, all items are presented at the front of the gallery, and one does not even get a bidding number. It appears the bookkeeper seems to know everyone, for we never heard her ask a successful bidder for a name. There is a stack of cushions at the rear of the gallery and to reserve a seat, you just take a pillow and place it on one of the hard, folding chairs. And if you want to get up closer to the front, and all seats are taken with pillows, you can move to any vacant spot if the person has not showed up within the first five minutes of the start of the sale.
We saved the best for last. There are no reserves and no buyer’s premium. Sounds like the good, old-fashioned auction; well, it is. And you can bring your well-behaved dog to the auction. Richard Wacht starts promptly at 7:30 pm, a routine he follows for about 46 Saturdays per year (There are no auctions over Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends, or on about three Saturdays during the Christmas holidays), and he sells close to 200 objects per sale.
On July 12 he sold 170 lots of the first of four sales containing the contents of a circa 1750 home in Barkhamsted, Conn. “The home was untouched and the contents of five generations filled the place to capacity, with boxes and burlap-wrapped things from the first floor to the attic. I have a 14-foot box truck and, so far, have taken away seven tightly packed loads, and there are about three more loads awaiting pickup,” Richard said. He does most of the moving himself, as he really has no regular staff. Auction nights he employs two people in the food department, and five on-stage holding up or placing objects, spotting bids and keeping the books. “Full time, we are a crew of two, Susan and me,” he added.
Prior to the start of the auction on July 12, Richard sat comfortably at his desk up on the stage with his feet, in cowboy boots, up on the table beside him, swapping stories with some of the auction regulars. “If you see something small you want, just place it on this table and we will put it right up,” Richard said to a lady who was giving her once-over to a porcelain figure. “We do that all the time so people in a hurry won’t have to wait around half the night for something to be offered,” he added.
“Quiet down, all sales are final and everything is sold as is,” Richard said as he picked an eagle inkwell off the table at his left. In short order it was knocked down for $240, followed by an Enterprise coffee grinder in red for $300 and two Teddy bears, both well loved, for $35. A shadowbox enclosed a flower in the shape of a horseshoe, made with chicken feathers, circa 1850, that sold for $35, while an Empire sofa, made for either a child or dolls, went for $130.
A small mantel clock, “in the state of great disrepair,” sold for $35 with the door off, reverse painted floral scene and a few chips. A mechanical bank in black paint, depicting a monkey who ate coins shot at him, sold for $300, and a large, three-story dollhouse, with not much age, brought $240.
A gathering of wax flowers under a large antique glass dome fetched $170; a dusty and dirty wooden bowl, 19½ inches in diameter, $120; and a French Victorian cathedral clock, $200. A nice six-board blanket box, New England, old red surface, sold for one bid of $100.
A Pennsylvania peg lamp on a cut glass candlestick, probably Philadelphia, brought $160; a one-drawer Sheraton table with one-board top, $80; a large hooked rug with fern design, $60; and an English doll with linen body, long black dress, porcelain head, about 16 inches tall, went for $100.
One of the earliest things in the sale was a large cast iron bell with frame to be pole mounted, late Seventeenth to early Eighteenth Century, all original, that sold for only $350. “These bells were rung to call the workers in from the fields for lunch or dinner, or if rung constantly to indicate a fire,” Richard said.
A set of six Pennsylvania side chairs, green painted with a red flower centered on the back splat, plank seats, went for $200, and a Centennial 1876 Spanish-foot youth chair in mahogany brought $160. Among the many dolls in the sale was a Queen Anne wood doll in long lace dress, mint condition, that brought $525, while a child’s sled in red, with the name Harold on top, blue runners, sold for $90. A captain’s high chair with cane seat sold for $45, and a tabletop flax wheel, early and complete, went for $70.
Richard Wacht announced at the beginning of the sale that people from the Hartford area and north of the city had been calling to see if the auction was going to start on time. Apparently there was a big event in Hartford that evening and accidents had caused the closing of both Interstates 84 and 91. “Yes, we are starting on time” was the answer, resulting in a head count that was smaller than usual. But everyone there seemed to be having a good time, and one lady nearby was overheard saying, “I usually come here for the entertainment, but tonight I really like that large wooden bowl.”
For additional information, www.cantonbarn.com or 860-693-0601.