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Rachel Tan/ MEDILL

Buyers at Chicago’s Leslie Hindman Auctioneers find specialty items at the marketplace auction.

In this economy, there is value in something old

by Rachel Tan
Nov 14, 2012

New things age. But in a marketplace auction, the old can be turned into new consumer and business opportunities.

The economic downturn of the past few years has tugged at consumers’ purse strings. For many people, luxury products won’t be appearing on holiday-season shopping lists.

At Chicago’s Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, however, tough times often create opportunity. Due to new concerns and habits of a budget-conscious decade, consumers and sellers alike turn to the auction house to even out their personal balance sheets.

“When the economy is doing its worst, we are doing our best,” said John Welcher, a specialist at Leslie Hindman.

Though specialty sales may not be the hottest market this season, demand for more affordable pieces at marketplace auctions is looking up.

This week’s marketplace auction at Leslie Hindman, which ends Thursday, has been drawing a mixed-interest crowd.

Marketplace auctions offer a similar feel and look of quality without the high-end price tag. Less focused than specialty sales, marketplace auctions are composed of tableware, porcelain, mirrors, furniture and lamps – smaller ticket objects suited for interiors.

“People are more focused on their budget, but people always want the best of the best – that’s where marketplace auctions come in,” said Welcher.

Such auctions are the best place for younger customers without a lot of disposable income to get started, explained Welcher, though he added that such clients are occasionally slow to realize the deals to be had.

In fact, said Welcher, auctions are to an extent still fighting their image as a pastime for older,grandparent generations.

For others, auctions are ways to lighten the load.

“Conspicuous consumption is not in my DNA,” said Angie Mills, an older woman who turned to Leslie Hindman to sell some family collectables due to lifestyle changes. A missionary family upbringing did not make her fond of auctions necessarily, she said, but the auction proved convenient as a venue to assist in her lifestyle change.

Mills, who recently moved into a retirement community, said she hopes to sell off a collection of her sister’s traditional Chinese textiles to adjust for her smaller living space. She plans to split any earnings with her sister.

“I knew I had to get rid of things,” she said.

The auction house was an obvious choice for Mills, who said its convenience and location were determining factors for her when choosing a venue to sell her objects.

Angie’s friend, Jan Petry would like the option to buy at the sale, but also sees her new living confines as a barrier to how much she can afford to store. Her economic situation, she noted, also makes her think twice before purchases.

“If I was still working and had a good job, I probably would still be collecting,” Petry said. She has also noticed less folk art in the marketplace auctions these past years, another reason she has stopped her purchases.

“Times change. Not many young people are collecting folk art at the moment,” she said.

Others attend marketplace auctions strictly to buy.

Alan Erickson sees opportunity in marketplace auctions. Erickson, who is in the business of art arbitrage, attends sales such as the Hindman marketplace auction every week in order to buy collectables that he will re-sell at a profit to various clients.

Originally involved in real estate, he said he turned to this niche business in order to bolster his own finances in the recent economic downturn.
“I had to diversify,” he said.

At marketplace auctions, sellers tend to sell in much larger quantities compared to specialty auctions – a better deal, Erickson said.
Although he’s only been in the business for less than a year, Erickson said he sees promise in art arbitrage’s ability to take advantage of the marketplace auction, where items move quicker.

An economy friendlier to liquid assets leads to a growing market for fast-moving secondhand objects, said the arbitrageur.

As a result, “People are probably finding it easier to liquidate estates,” he said.