Published: June 13, 2017
Review and Photos by Laura Beach
WOODSTOCK VALLEY, CONN. – At a time when the antiques business is steadily expanding online, Norman C. Heckler & Company is doubling down on two time-tested principles: the power of place and truth in the tangible.
Mind you, Heckler, a leading specialist in antique bottles and glass who worked for Massachusetts auctioneer Robert Skinner for 21 years before going out on his own in 1987, is no stranger to online selling.
Timed, online sales accounted for most of his firm’s revenue in the past 12 months, as the page of auction highlights appended to this report underscores. But beyond absentee auctions, of which the company plans six for 2017, Heckler – with the assistance of his wife, Elizabeth; son, Norman Heckler Jr; and a handful of staffers – is this year hosting up to seven live auctions at the old family farm. The charming rural setting and the fellowship these events engender offer a compelling endorsement of the antiquarian way of life just when the field needs it most.
On Friday morning, May 26, glass collectors clustered in the gravel lot adjacent to the barn for an impromptu tailgate exchange before the main event, a live auction featuring property from the collection of Tim and Christine Hill, Dr John Clark and others.
“It’s unique what Norm does here. Heckler has one of the last remaining live auctions in the antique bottle field. These sales are important social events,” said Jim Bender, an upstate New York collector who is co-chairing the Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors’ National Antique Bottle Convention and Expo in Springfield, Mass., from August 3 to 6.
Several dozen bottle hunters, most of them men, headed into the barn just before 10 am for the auction. Roughly half of the 162-lot vendue consisted of grouped objects, mostly flasks and bottles for medicines, soda water, whiskey, bitters and cologne.
“Thank you for coming, some of you from great distances. We take cash or a good check. Smoking and socializing is outside,” Heckler Sr said before starting away with the first lot, a Dr Lesure’s Remedies veterinary medicine cabinet that went for $3,627, including buyer’s premium.
Assisted by glass dealer and collector Maureen Crawford, Heckler led the standing crowd from table to table, and from case to case, the latter backlit to show off the mesmerizing colors of the glass. Pressed up the barn walls were assorted vintage chairs for those in need of a rest. After selling about a hundred lots, Heckler turned the proceedings over to Ernie Eldridge, a career auctioneer from nearby Willimantic.
Heckler later explained, “Our absentee Premier Auctions, of which there are two each year, usually in March and September, typically feature our highest-value items. Lots in those auctions are valued at $200 and up. Our monthly Live Barn Auctions are more diverse. We were very pleased with this auction. We had some very good things. A lot of people knew Tim and Christine Hill, who were from upstate New York, and what they had. That contributed energy and excitement to this sale.”
The signature piece from the Hill group was a pint flask in aquamarine, $5,265. An eagle decorates one side, on reverse is a Masonic arch and emblems. The Hill collection also yielded a lot of four C.C. Goodale of Rochester, N.Y., whiskey flasks, $1,117, in assorted sizes and colors, half-pint to quart, and yellow amber to bluish aquamarine.
“There were a couple of Lafayette and Liberty Cap portrait flasks. We thought those would do well locally and they did,” said Heckler. From the Hill collection, a pint-sized example of the aforesaid in olive amber made $1,112.
Buyers were free to bid in advance via phone or by email, but not during the sale. Heckler & Company does not partner with an outside bidding platform. At the close of the auction, buyers assembled in an orderly queue to pay the cashier, after which they boxed up their own bottles in, appropriately, recycled cardboard boxes for wines and spirits.
“Glass people are the best, the nicest and most honest I’ve met in the antiques business,” Heckler said, an observation given weight by the friendly, collaborative spirit of the proceedings.
Afterwards, the Hecklers unlocked their bottle shop, which occupies a one-room building much like an old schoolhouse behind their antique farmhouse. Visitors were invited to preview highlights from the company’s upcoming Select Auction, which begins July 3 and closes July 12. A Premier absentee auction is planned for September.
“Glass prices may have leveled off a bit in recent years, but we never saw a big decline as in other fields,” said Heckler, who in 2010 auctioned a General Jackson eagle portrait flask for $176,670.
All prices include the buyer’s premium.
Heckler’s online calendar lists 27 events for 2017. In addition to live and absentee auctions, the company sets up at more than a dozen antique bottle shows, events that take staff as far west as Ohio.
Norman C. Heckler & Company is at 79 Bradford Corner Road. For information, www.hecklerauction.com or 860-974-1634.
WOODSTOCK VALLEY, CONN. – Antique glass specialist Norman C. Heckler & Company stays busy, organizing roughly a dozen auctions each year and setting up at 15 shows devoted primarily to bottles. While unique in its category in continuing to conduct a half dozen or so live sales annually, the company makes much of its money organizing online absentee sales. High value consignments are typically slotted for its Premier Auctions in March and September. Here is a sampling of top prices, including premium, recorded by Heckler & Company over the past 12 months.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
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