{15/10/2010}   Auction challenge
Newly acquired tea sets

I have a friend (CA) who lives three doors away from Greenwich Auctions.  I’ve occasionally walked past during or after the auction and seen cars being loaded with antiques and, well, stuff.  It’s crossed my mind that I’d like to go in.

The idea of auctions has always scared me, particularly a twitching/scratching/fiddling = bidding paranoia.  Then last week I decided to go in.  I felt extraordinarily brave in a way-out-of-my-depth kind of way.  I didn’t go alone though, I was with another auction virgin (CG).

I announced at reception that I knew I needed something to commence my auction experience but that I’d need help knowing what.  A nice, cheery girl giggled then produced a form to be filled out, a bidding number (how exciting!) was handed over and a brochure with 583 lots was purchased (£1.50).

We were in there about 50 minutes before the 11am kick off.  If you’ve never been to an auction before you may not believe how unexpectedly exhilarating it all is!

The lots were displayed around a large warehouse, things piled on top of each other or in rickety display cabinets.  All very dirty and junk shop-like.  But somehow, the matching of the lot number to the catalogue number is a very exciting process, especially because of the guide price.

For example, there was a display of old glass bottles, a ‘vintage’ ironing board, an old wooden child’s seat, kitchen scales and other vintage/shabby kitchenalia.  All that, maybe 30 items (admittedly, some were dustbin fodder), with a guide price of £10-£15.  Two or three of the glass bottles alone could’ve been sold to get the money back.  I asterisked that lot, lot 76, most vigorously.

I then proceeded to asterisk more lots.  Then CG got giddy and marked a load of lots too.

The bidding commenced at 11am.  We were seated, poised and ready for lot 30, the first of our highlighted lots:

“Early 20th century twenty two piece white glazed oriental tea set with geisha girl relief £20-£25.”

By about lot 16 I was a bundle of nerves.  I’d already convinced myself I’d inadvertently bid on a whole range of things because I developed a bizarrely itchy face and my hair kept needing to be fiddled with and I was a fidgety mess.  I couldn’t even look at the auctioneer for longer than a quick look of horror that his pre-hammer-slamming “£20 to the seated lady” seemed to be directed at me after a particularly active scratching session.  I seriously thought I’d bid on loads of things … until I realised he couldn’t have seen my number as it was firmly face down and well hidden from him!

So then I got nervous about bidding.  But before I knew it (auctioneers are so fast!!) it was lot 30.  My hand went up, nobody else bid, and suddenly I was displaying my bidder number as the hammer went down on my £20 (plus 16% buyers’ premium) bid.  It felt like a victory, more so than a closely fought last-second eBay win!  I was shaking and on a real high that never subsided, despite losing (giving up on?) a few lots I’d hoped to get but that went above my budget.

A teacup from lot 30, complete with the concealed lithophane “simple geisha with flower”

I lost lot 76 in a flurry of bids.  It went for £20.  I probably should have joined in the bidding but I had £10 in mind and I was trying not to be too rash or impulsive!

I got two further lots, another tea set (why??!) and an oak nest of tables.  Yes, yes, I know, a nest of tables. But they’re for the market stall challenge, as are the tea sets.

Even CG, a careful planner where purchases are concerned, had a giddy smile on his face and bid furiously and with uncharacteristic enthusiasm.  He came out clutching more stuff than me, including a walking stick for a person far shorter than him … but with the added bonus of a hidden drink flask.  Oh the joy of impulse buys!

I’m going to the preview day of the following week’s auction tonight.  I will mark more things in the catalogue and pay more attention to anything that’s of even vague interest.  There were a few things that sold for £5 with a £10-£15 guide price.  Maybe they could’ve been missed bargains.  I will then google/eBay search things to get an idea of value.

Bidding and being at an auction is fun and not scary (except when something you really want starts quickly increasing above your limit and you don’t have time to faff and dither!).  There’s a lot of rubbish but there are also some wonderful, interesting and unusual things.  Ikea?  Never again.  The next time I want a coffee table, desk, drawers, I’ll go to an auction and get something cheaper that’s made of solid wood and has character.  Seriously, give it a go, I’m pretty sure there’s enjoyment to be had for everyone, even if you have no intention of bidding and only go along to laugh at some people’s hideous taste, particularly where cruet sets and ornaments are concerned!


Recipe and ingredients for Apple Balls (1951)

I’ve done it!  I’ve actually followed something through!  Challenge number one was a success in that I did it AND it was delicious, albeit a bit messy.

I did cheat a little bit though because I used pastry that I defrosted … but it was me who made it.
This recipe was embarrassingly easy and I chose it because I had all the ingredients and I was getting a bit twitchy about not having done my first challenge already.
The recipe:
“pastry as required
1 teaspoon apricot jam for each apple (I only had raspberry – apricot wouldn’t have looked so messy!)
6 or 8 apples (I did four – this recipe is vague and easy to adapt)
1 teaspoon brown sugar for each apple (I didn’t register the one teaspoon thing and filled the apples with sugar!)
Roll out the pastry, and cut into as many squares as there are apples.  Peel and core the apples without breaking them.  Spread each square with jam.  Stand the apple on it.  With sugar fill the holes.  Close up the pastry round the fruit.  Press edges together.  Bake apples on a greased tin in a brisk oven till the pastry is nicely browned.  They will take about 25 minutes to bake, according to the size of the apples.”
This process really doesn’t need photographic help but I was feeling enthusiastic and keen to photograph every stage!
As even distribution of jam wasn’t occurring, I shoved some on top of the sugared centre
Coring, peeling and pastry rolling are, obviously, easy but it’s challenging to wrap an apple in jam-covered pastry.
I’m now having some photo download issues so I may be able to escape revealing the finished product in its pool of raspberry jam (Baking tray still soaking in a potentially futile attempt to salvage it – just re-read recipe and noticed I’d also ignored the bit about greasing the baking tray!).
This is a very simple recipe.  I almost dismissed it as being boring but it was extremely good!  Admittedly most of the jam had escaped but the apple was really soft and it had a lovely caramel taste.
I used dark brown sugar and baked it at 180 for about 30 minutes.
Make it, seal it well, maybe add a dollop of ice cream and hey presto, a pretty quick and easy pudding that tastes far better than you’d expect!
I had visions of writing a witty, interesting and informative blog about creative things.  I’ve started off with apple balls, neither creative nor challenging (beyond the issues of wrapping pastry round a jam covered apple!)!  It can only get better … surely!

et cetera