Published: April 12, 2022
Review by Z.G. Burnett, Photos by Madelia Hickman Ring, & Z.G. Burnett
COVENTRY, CONN. – “It’s like going backwards in time, but also going forwards,” says John Cavaliere of New Haven, Conn., “This is the future, people getting together face to face and talking about the things they collect and enjoy.”
Cavaliere, one of about 50 attendants at the weekly sale conducted at Ingraham & Co. A restorer and owner of Lyric Hall Antiques & Conservation, he’s not the only professional in the room with a passion for treasure hunting. Collectors and dealers of all levels populate the seemingly casual crowd, ready with paddles in the form of paper plates displaying handwritten numbers, vying for their next acquisition.
Ingraham & Co is decidedly “old school,” headed by Bruce Ingraham himself, and does not publish catalogs or have an online presence. Regulars nonetheless appear week after week, greeted by Ingraham and his in-house team, caffeinated by hot drip coffee and fueled by $1 donuts available at the auction house’s snack bar. The operation is housed in a former roller rink, and the echoes of good times past still resonate through the auction’s friendly and familiar atmosphere. Many attendants are excited to discuss their various interests and, in slightly more hushed tones, any lots they may have their eye on.
The offered lots are an eclectic mix, and hands-on inspection is not only permitted but highly encouraged. Only a few small objects near the podium are enclosed in glass, the rest are free for perusal. Small vintage hooked rugs share the same table with a pensive contemporary frog statuette, facing a Nineteenth Century spinning wheel. Two aluminum pelicans are hung on the wall close by, neighboring a large figural weathervane in the shape of a goat. Underneath is a box lot collection of resin elf figurines, and stacked nearby is an arrangement of vintage radios, perhaps more valuable for their aesthetic appeal than their functionality. Not a single object remains untouched, and it’s a surprise to learn that this steady energy is less than the usual activity.
“Today’s a bit soft,” says Ingraham, referring to both the turnout and the estimated sales. Due to many of the local flea markets opening for the season, he expects about half the profits of their better Sundays, which have often amounted to around $80,000. Most of Ingraham’s clientele comes from within 15 to 20 miles of the auction house, the span of which is full of other distractions on Sunday mornings as the season ramps up. “Markets like the Mansfield Flea bring traffic in but also draw attention away from the auction,” he explained.
Despite these reduced numbers compared to the weekly norm, it would be inaccurate to describe the assembled buying pool of around 50 bidders as sparse. The crowd steadily increases within the hour before the early bird sale that begins at 10:30 am, at which time it’s easy to lose sight of the items for sale if these are not held aloft by an Ingraham auction assistant. As participants walk from table to table around the building’s edges, this auction moves fast, sometimes with as little as 30 seconds to complete bidding on a single lot. Auctioneers like Dan Kingsbury are well accustomed to this pace, managing to go through hundreds of items in just under an hour.
As the early sale proceeds, those who came for specific lots either pile their winnings off to the side and continue with the sales procession or retire to the benches. “You aren’t going to buy anything just sitting there,” one buyer good-naturedly cajoles another who has decided to wait out the walkaround sale in favor of the main auction, which begins around 11:45 am following a brief break. The auction also seems to be a social event, with many of the visitors assembled closer to the main desk just catching up and watching the spectacle. Normally pizza is available for purchase between the auctions but much to the crowd’s chagrin, an order was not submitted in time this Sunday.
Taylor Hooey, an auction assistant with Ingraham, started working the auctions about eight months ago. Hooey, whose full-time job includes inventory control at a neighboring distribution center, began attending the auctions with his girlfriend Amber Jones, a local realtor. Jones also resells her finds online, specializing in “anything I think is cool.” Initially drawn to the sale in search of additions to his vintage vinyl collection, Hooey began to take on weekend hours with the auction and is “loving it.” His father, Taylor Hooey Sr, also stopped by for the auction preview after visiting the flea market.
The pair are not the only fresh faces in the crowd, with many younger people on staff and in the bidding fray. Andrew Oliver-Rudis of Mansfield, Conn., is one of the post-flea market crew, up at dawn with the Ingraham & Co auction as his second stop. Dressed in a great vintage puffer vest and sporting a diamond-style cowboy hat with a beaded band, he could have walked out of the big-screen television behind the front desk where Red Dawn is silently playing on cable yet is still very much of this time. From the long tables covered with flat boxes near the building’s small cafeteria, Oliver-Rudis took home a box of railroad ephemera for $23. In the digital age where paper products are a niche interest, such items are becoming more and more difficult to source.
Conversations continued unabated among the bidding. We struck up a conversation with Paul Pomperwitz, an antiques dealer and subscriber to Antiques and The Arts Weekly for almost 50 years. Hanging back from the auction’s main activity, he spoke in a low voice and was highly knowledgeable about each of the items up for sale and quite familiar with Ingraham & Co auctions. Pomperwitz has two booths in nearby shops, but nothing quite caught his eye during the early sale that Sunday.
We also spoke with Nelson Blanchard, a bidder who was waiting for a large ice saw to come across the block. “It was here last week, and no one paid attention to it,” Blanchard said, “So I’m hoping to grab it.” The saw in question sold for $98, far more than he was willing to pay. “That’s all right,” said Blanchard with a smile after leaving the bidding, “I have three just like it!”
For the past eight years, Blanchard has been coming to auctions at Ingraham & Co to build his collection of antique carpentry tools. He houses more than a thousand pieces in his workshop up in Washburn, Maine, where he plans to open a small museum. “It would be free [admission],” Blanchard says, “For anyone who wants to learn.” The ice saw was meant to be a painted sign, which would read ‘The Antique Beaver Museum.’ He already has two stumps gnawed by the natural builders outside his workshop, ready to welcome visitors.
If this is the level of character present at a less attended sale, we can only imagine the fun of a crowd double this size. Ingraham & Co annually changes its schedule to suit the season. Starting on April 20, the auctions will be conducted on Wednesday nights instead of Sunday mornings. Beginning with an early sale at 5:30 pm, the auction then moves on to the regular sale at 6:30 pm.
Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium as reported by the auction. For more information, call 860-742-1993.
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5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
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