Category Archives: auction

There will be light! An utterly incongruent story of six lamps.

As my dear friend Ken Herron said when I told him the story, “You can’t make this stuff up!” and while the following may provide evidence to the contrary I am not (as he said) a “crazy lamp lady”.

I will admit, I live on the edge of outright financial disaster, but surrounded by beauty (which makes up for a lot) and always in a state of gratitude. I have very little in terms of expectation, and I am ridiculously happy for my version of normal which for anyone else would likely bring about bleeding ulcers, nocturnal teeth grinding and require serious pharmaceuticals to abate sitting in the corner of the room rocking back and forth and drooling on myself.  I trace this ‘cause and effect’ back to the willful folly of a 17 or 18 year old me desiring something denied by my father who said no more times than not to me while rarely denying my brother a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g, and my intuitive sense of navigation to find a way around an ‘in trust for’ passbook bank account and to the desired financial assets. (Whereupon my father announced that he was “washing his hands of me” – c’est la vie.)  I recall years later my mother saying something sarcastic about the fact that I always buy myself what I want by way of explanation for not receiving anything for my birthday, yet again. Sigh. I learned self sufficiency (for need and want) in an environment of disproportion; I am unapologetic.

intentionThat expressed, nice things happen to me. Frequently. Specialness that you could only put at the threshold of a universe that demands equilibrium.  A universe where intention manifests, despite the totally illogical, circuitous path traveled and where I find myself with (undeserved?) abundance. This is a true story about such. About how I “shouldn’t have, but did” and how in the end it worked out better than any rational human being assigning risk management theories could predict or that common sense would dictate. This story is about the universe saying yes when it should have denied me, and didn’t. This is the utterly incongruous story of six lamps and the unexpected, but very happy ending on my path to reinvention and relocation.

In 1992 I bought a pair of antique Famille Verte Chinese covered urns with mud decorations and battle scenes with carved rosewood stands for $99 (inclusive) in a junk cum antique DSCN9916shop in Buffalo, NY’s Allentown district.  I then took them to renowned antique dealer Dana Tillou (I have also been a customer of his nephew Jeffrey) to ‘see what I had scored’ only to have Dana gently suggest that given their value (at the time about $1100) I not drill them and turn them into lamps; which of course is precisely why I bought them and what I did. Elmwood Lighting (now out of business) did the honors and with the custom ecru silk lampshades the bill came to $161 and change (I had the receipt until fairly recently) all in $260.

Fast forward to 2013.

When I decided to uproot my life (to at the time destination unknown) last year I decided that I would start selling off my possessions to make the move easier, and with a new life would come a complete redo of my living-room decoration.  So I listed them on eBay, they had a buyer, who turned out to be one of those eBayers that give the company a bad reputation with sellers, for the $260 I had ‘invested’ after enjoying them for 20 years.  Alas, she opened a case and claimed “not as represented” (and then as broken) and eBay in their wisdom offered her a complete refund because I had insurance on the two boxes even while she had not returned the lamps.  I filed a claim with USPS, asked her to make them available to an inspector, to return them and hoped for at least the $200. Months dragged on, but eventually USPS issued a check for the $200 and a couple weeks later the lamps came back – not a total loss but time and money would have to be spent to find a replacement carved rosewood base and have the repairs done.  Eventually these would happily sell a second time for the same $260; net gain was about $170. Another lamp uneventfully sold for $260 putting my cash flow in the $430 range.

Obviously if you are selling lamps there is still the need for lighting to see after dark.  And my longest, dearest held girlfriend Doris (an age peer of my parents) once had a pair of reticulated Blanc de Chine ginger jars that had been wired and sat on her mantle that I loved.  The man that ran her downsizing household sale was having an estate sale in my DSCN0001neighborhood and I managed to score a reticulated Blanc de Chine vase, the base already drilled, from him for $18 (picture at right). I found an antique hand carved Chinese wooden display stand that fit on eBay (actually, eventually, two) for $60 and had my lovely local lamp repair guy Brian handle the wiring for me – $79 (brass fittings and labor, tax).  I shipped the new lamp to NYC for a custom silk lampshade as no local business to my current home does such work at a cost of about $50. If you are doing the math along with me here that meant that I was still ‘up’ $233 after using my other lamps for roughly 20 years, not a bad ROI.

After massive grief and delays (three months) in having the custom turquoise blue silk pagoda lampshade made the lamp arrived back in one box and the lampshade in another – fully insured thank God – bill $640 (I know, I know, I am insane but I beg you not to look at me that way) for the lampshade and the shipping back. Technically speaking the whole gorgeous lamp with the shade came at an end cost $417.) BUT, the lamp base arrived back to me shattered! (argh), receipts forwarded to FedEx, more grief, partial refund requested, more dialogue, more emails, more receipts, waiver on claim, still broken lamp and an expensive lampshade and no lamp and then finally, nearly miraculously, a check arrives from FedEx – not a partial refund but a check that covered the shipping, the lampshade that wasn’t damaged, and the lamp – for $825 and some change!  Now the net cost of the new gorgeous lamp is actually nothing, and I have “made” $408 in the process.

Here’s where it gets even more interesting.  I was looking for a lamp finial for the Blanc de Chine vase lamp – so off to eBay and that’s where I found the dragon porcelain lamp (see the Pinterest story by clicking here, start at the bottom to see what it looked like on eBay) and finiala lamp finial ultimately paying $215 (including the shipping). Alas, it had a serious ugly lamp cap and an eBay source sold me a solid brass one that is PERFECT for $3. The accounting? Still ahead by $190!  The finial turned out to be really big (for either lamp) at 3” in diameter and a bunch of research turns out that it is actually an antique carved Mutton Fat (white) jade plaque from China (quite valuable) turned into a finial likely late 1800s so I listed it on eBay (more on this in a bit).

My lamp guy charged me $30 to rewire (what turned out to be gilt ormolu mounted) the porcelain lamp, and I am still ahead by $160. My 2nd new lamp now needs a lampshade.  DSCN9991There is no way I can justify another custom silk shade so I try the blue one on this lamp and decide it looks perfect but the Blanc de Chine, now devoid of its custom pagoda shade, needs one. Back online to do research for something “in stock” and I settle upon a black silk shade with gilt lining DSCN9999but I am not spending $89 plus shipping. So back to eBay where, to my utter amazement, I find the perfect size, brand new, unused, oval, black silk with gilt paper lining shade originally sold in a town that I lived in out on Long Island’s North Shore – and I auction snipe it (bidding at the 30 second mark before the auction ended) and score it for $19 (including the shipping)! It looks amazing and despite all the energy expended my two new lamps have a total cost of nothing and I have made $141!!!

That is not the end of this story. Remember the carved jade plaque as a lamp finial? I sold it on eBay for $800. (Not factoring in eBay and PayPal fees) the universe has netted me two breathtaking lamps and I wound up making $940 – which, if I am truthful, should have been used to pay my rent in the first place instead of messing around buying lamps and that is where the money eventually went.

Both lamps have “cousins” on the 1stDibs website – the Blanc de Chine at $2250 and the gilt mounted porcelain 19th century French oil lamp that had been converted at $3000. A 60 watt bare bulb would ‘do’ for reading and no one actually needs a pair of lamps worth $5200 but I do love how the universe conspires to let me live with beauty – which is exactly what I ‘need’.

I still have this antique Paris porcelain one to sell with its custom silk shade – if you are interested. 😉

P.S. September 2014 – the Paris Porcelain one sold – $325 – bringing my grand total net gain $1265.

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I have butterflies.

Much with the same fervor that people stand outside in all kinds of weather to get first dibs on tickets to rock concerts I rose very early this morning to simply have a chance to purchase a chair at an estate sale.

The sale opens at 10 AM, permanent numbers replace our temporary ones at 9.  As I write this I have been sitting on my yoga mat on the front steps of this house since 7 AM – a pad of pink Post-it notes (provided by a neighbor) and a magic marker beside me.  An Asian man just walked up the sidewalk to hand me #4 – as I was about to give him #2 – even as I had #1 in my own hand. This terrifies me. The fact that this man (previously unknown from any other estate sale I have attended locally in the last five years) has just appeared somehow validates my research as there is no other Oriental (anything) being offered in the sale; he has been here since 5 AM.

ImageLet me just say that initially this was not about scoring a precious antique.  At first sighting for the sale online my thought was ‘PERFECTLY scaled for Cliff’ – my soon to be divorced neighbor and his three daughters for whom I have been decorating over the last year – with a cushion to be made of yellow silk fabric scored at another estate sale over the summer.  I have spent four days doing research on this chair simply wanting to establish that the $250 asking price was reasonable (in case Cliff didn’t agree with my oeuvre and I had to sell it on eBay to recover my outlay).

Starting with Google Images and the search words “antique Chinese chairs” I drilled down through the plethora of results.  But with this research I started discovering anomalies, eventually narrowing the pool of chairs down to just two similar pieces to the one that sits just out of my reach on the other side of that massive entry door. (At least stylistically) the chair is consistent to an 18th century, humpback low rail, southern Chinese Official’s Chair in yellow pear wood – known amongst the cognoscenti as HUANGHUALI.  Chairs sold at Bonham’s and Christie’s Hong Kong auction houses for just over $15,000 and $251,000 respectively (the images below link back to their websites)!!  I don’t ‘know’ what the chair ‘waiting for me’ actually is – yet.


7:20AM a second Asian man – most likely also Chinese – has just arrived. OHGAWD.  I have a cheerleading squad of course, and I am hopeful that my intention and their collective karmic energy help me prevail but, still…

Once I narrowed the design aesthetic down I sent emails off to Christie’s, Bonham’s, Sotheby’s, Doyle, Leigh Keno (of PBS Antiques Road Show fame), and two others with the original hyperlinks to the auction pieces asking how I might consign a similar piece with them. Nearly all have responded (some within twenty minutes of my email) asking for exhaustive images.  So, at least as you read this, you start to understand why my stomach feels like I am going to throw up!

8:09 AM, an Asian woman has just shown up and joined the conversation with the two men. More butterflies.

I decide to go for a walk around the back of the house as there is supposed to be a charming garden.  I take solace that with this mid-September date the seed heads for the extravagant lilies are in place and as a gardener pluck these to bring home and plant in the garden – taking solace that no matter what happens something good will come of all these hours waiting this morning.

I have taken a woman named Kathy into my confidence – the house is big, I know from the estate sale manager that he has fielded five other calls about the chair, I need help.  She is SO LOVELY and agrees, asks specifically what I would like her to do.  She’s brilliant, interested, keen to learn, hopeful for me – the sincerity of her being is like tiny soap bubbles carried on summer breezes.

Suddenly the sale manager and another gentleman are rearranging cars.  I take a chance and approach the unknown older gentleman, ask him if it is his house. Yes, it is. Ask him if he would mind if I asked him about the Chinese chair.  He’s lovely, tells me the story of how he acquired it – through an antique dealer in Provincetown, MA (hmm, I am pretty sure I have actually been in the shop!). Assures me that it isn’t fragile, certainly functional. Whew… so, no matter what (assuming I am lucky) it is going to be useful. 

9 AM, our temporary numbers are swapped for permanent ones. The person who had #2 is nowhere to be seen. If you have never attended an estate sale, the etiquette is you stay on the premises until permanent numbers are given out, if you don’t the “mass” polices the offender and ensures you do not get ‘your’ number. As a result I have just moved from #4 to #3, and Kathy is now #6. I know that the man who holds #2 (now) is interested in Mid-Century modern furniture and signed artworks from the same period – this leaves me and #1 with the chair.

9:23 AM another Asian man has just arrived. Less polite than the others, he seems even aggressive with them in his dialogue. His number will be 30 and he’s not happy about it. He’s climbed up on the porch ‘railing’ to peer into the living room window. He’s speaking rapid fire Chinese. He jumps down, storms off to his mini-van and drives away.  OH. Dear.

9:50 AM, the door opens, the estate sale manager comes out to address the crowd (interesting contrast in style to all the other sale managers over the years) on where things are, how many will be allowed in, terms of sale and then, he allows the first 15 of us in. In my excitement, and plan with Kathy it is she who actually sits down in the chair to claim it for me!!! The universe smiles, my eyes fill up with tears of gratitude.

I change places with her – it’s a comfortable piece of furniture. The wood feels ‘right’ (like old silk) under my hands but I turn it over, put on my glasses, and examine the construction, the finish, the oxidization and the wear. Some of it is ‘spot on’ – like the wear on the bottom of the feet and the front rail, it’s not soft wood (can’t mark it with my fingernail in a discrete place), the mortise and tenon joints are also ‘right’ and the S shaped back splat is exquisitely carved with what I think are entwined lotus blossoms. The finish doesn’t have the kind of wear on the arms that I expected and the hard caned seat shown in the Bonham’s and Christie’s chairs is missing on “mine” (which I obviously already knew).  What is totally unexpected are tiny old metal brackets surrounding the joints – almost as if holding the chair together.  They aren’t ‘normal’ and are like a silent alarm in my head when I see them.  The first two Asian men find me on the floor, nod, kneel beside me and the chair, they pull out very small flashlights, ask if I am buying it, how much it is, nod again, then start examining it. They don’t think the oxidization is ‘enough’; they shake their heads ‘no’ in unison. DSCN9868“Nice chair, not old.” My intuition has been tottering during my inspection – but the truth is I don’t really know intellectually what level of antique my hands are running over, I am not an expert. I buy it anyway – $271 with tax – seems that after all this effort even if it’s just a ‘nice chair’ this great story is worth every penny. As I leave two people congratulate me on scoring the ‘nice chair’ (I smile).

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Exploring relationship compatibility

I believe that the structure of any relationship, of establishing trust, of migrating toward rather than pulling away from another is based upon tiny imperceptible nuances of behavior as well as ‘acceptable’ standards. Some people just ‘fit’ together with ease, others find a way of working through to meet someplace in the middle, some compromise better than others. Still, there is the level of self-esteem we cultivate within us which tends to set the bar a bit higher (hopefully) for people entering our lives. I do not believe that culture or religion or geography or age have so much to do with this as the individuals involved – a natural harmony that is easy to feel as well as to recognise in its absence.


Gustavian-style five arm chandelier – click to reach my Pinterest.


Click to reach my Pinterest

It’s no secret that I aspire to make a move to Sweden.  As a quasi-realist I recognise the total impracticality of shipping 30 years of my worldly possessions via slow boat and then being hit with any related import duties on my fantastic collection of 18th and 19th century antiques.  No, I am selling most of this before leaving the States.  Given the wonders of the Internet I am able to poke around Stockholm online to source ‘replacements’.  I am currently nominally sick to my stomach over my inability to have negotiated the purchase of two such pieces – one, a slightly damaged (could always be restored) Gustavian-style five arm (non-electrified) chandelier and the other, a very practical, early 19th century bracket foot English mahogany butler’s writing bureau with the original brasses and key!  As anyone could see from the photos, even without knowledge of my specific decorating aesthetic, these two pieces would have been amazing in the same room, my living room ‘to be’ in Stockholm.  In the United States, specifically Boston or NYC, these two pieces combined would have a retail cost someplace considerably north of $10,000 (as I discovered a nearly identical chandelier is priced at $28,500! at Belevdere Antiques they also have a similar writing bureau in stock though it is Swedish); yet their final combed price with 22% auction commission and a ‘whatever fee’ of $60 USD each would have brought their grand total to $364.50 USD.  Yes, you read quite correctly, THREE HUNDRED, SIXTY-FOUR DOLLARS AND FIFTY CENTS. Now, some of you antique freaks are likely screaming at your computer monitor “WTF! WHY DIDN’T YOU BID??” let me explain. For starters to bid it was requisite to have a Swedish social security number, which I wouldn’t have been able to secure in time for the ending time this afternoon and their offices were closed when I discovered the auction late yesterday and so would have been impossible to come up with a Plan B; the second half of the reason has more to do with my opening paragraph.

You see I DID actually reach out to a man in Sweden that I had met through OKCupid some months ago and with whom there has been a very nice dialogue. He has done some remarkably thoughtful things (such as sharing advertisements for jobs) so I asked him if he would do this favour for me, and in exchange, as he is recently divorced, he could use the bureau until such time as I got myself to Stockholm. It was a practical, logical solution in which everyone would win – and he could have been a hero to me.  To be fair, I proposed the structure of this be such that gave him the amounts I could spare for each item and even strategically framed the “how to” to improve my chances of success. I figured out what I could afford, plus the fees, and gave him the amount and told him that I would transfer the funds to him via PayPal IMMEDIATELY at the close of the auction.

My rationale in purchasing these being that I was going to need a place to write, to store some of my clothes and, for romantic evenings cooking and cuddling with my potential lover that a chandelier with candles was going to be incredibly ‘practical’.  But, despite that I am so transparent, and that this lovely man seemed very interested in exploring some kind of a relationship with me, something was off in his willingness to do ‘my bidding’ as it were. I don’t think it is being American or being Swedish, and I would like to believe that it wasn’t even about the time involved or the technical logistics of my transferring the money, but I am sure it is about trust.  Trust cuts both ways. From my perspective to prove I trusted him enough to assist with my migration, I was willing to hand over the money “in good faith” in advance of actually having physical possession so that he would assume zero financial exposure. I figured in the event that he absconded with the chandelier and the bureau, it would be relatively inexpensive in contrast with something potentially much more costly later on.  But the Skype dialogue made it quickly clear that this wasn’t within his comfort zone. He wasn’t inclined to bid on the pieces without my arranging the money to be sent to him in advance, (as if I had a crystal ball to determine what the end bid would be and the amount I would owe him) and, as he doesn’t have a PayPal account, I couldn’t even (easily) transfer the funds to him post auction; a logistics nightmare.

I have to recognise that when it comes to extending ourselves for other people, or levels of trust, that not everyone is easy with entangling their lives with others to the same degree I am.  There will be other auctions, and other chandeliers and desks and chests of drawers and carpets and art to decorate my new home and I just have to let go of the ones that got away.  (Though my frustration at not ‘getting the look’ for a pittance borders on apoplectic.) I also came to realise two other things from this experience – that although damn inconvenient to live minimally again once I arrive in Sweden, as with most of my life, I need to do these things myself and, this man is so clearly not the right man for me.

Das Boot(s)!

Yesterday I scored a pair of utterly impractical, Kaki Daniels black velvet boots on eBay for $51.99 (original retail around $500) because, well, because of OKCupid… and also because I am working on my second book – this one about finding love after 50 (yet untitled) so I am considering them a prop for ‘field research’.

My book is chronicling my personal experiences in navigating online dating, combining it with research involving histories’ greatest lovers, Imagethe lives and ‘careers’ of women commonly referred to as Les Grandes Horizontales of 19th century France, Geisha’s, Venetian courtesans (like Veronica Franco), the seductive power of, say, Brigitte Bardot in And God Created Woman and the confusion I experienced in watching Catherine Deneuve in Belle de Jour, what makes something truly sensual, and men, oh, yes MEN, finding a GREAT ONE and what makes them respect, swoon, finally commit! That I am the least qualified woman on the planet to write about these (I am not a scholar of women’s studies, human sexuality or for that matter a historian) matters not.  Why? Let’s start with the fact that I can still hear my mother say “why do you have to make every guy your best friend?” (Maybe because that safer path meant I wouldn’t come home a pregnant teenager or acquire STDs.) Okay, and I was a virgin on my wedding night and I can count more years of not having intimate physical relations than those in which I have.  Oh yes, and I have this ABSOLUTE about physical expression needing to be bound to emotional and spiritual commitment.  But I am curious and as someone who exists in a state of mindful sensuality about virtually everything, whose friends leave notes on the back of business cards tucked inside my books saying things like “use your power wisely”, I wonder WHY have I put off finding this ‘perfect for me’ man and hopefully in finding him I might create laughter, foster thoughtfulness, encourage the passionate exploration of life and love, and find it without clichés in the process. Of course I am experiencing plenty of clichés!

Anyway, back to the boots, which in their own way are just as scary as the movie title I have used for this post!  I have never owned anything remotely like these – they are so sexy that they should come with a warning label and age restriction around their use. I am trying to figure out what (besides the obvious Lise Charmel) to wear them with, and more specifically with whom and when!?  None of that matters for the present.  It was the art of bidding here in combination with the fact that “the universe” clearly understood that I should have them is most important. One, never, ever, be in a hurry. The auction, as most are, was 7 days in duration. At the time I found the listing (primarily a fluke because I was actually searching for a pair of Emma Hope beaded and embellished mules) 3 days remained, they had one bid of $18.99, and I was not inclined to pay more than $40 plus shipping for something so frivolous. So I put them on my watch list and w-a-i-t-e-d.

I was on a Skype call when the countdown to bidding began – 34 minutes to the auction ending. It’s amazing how slowly time can pass even while multi-tasking. All of the sudden it was 3 minutes to go. At 2 minutes before auction end I opened the bid window, entered $60, prayed that my timing was spot on against the processing (actually I have never done this before) cycles at eBay, waited until the countdown clock cleared 58 seconds and submitted my bid. My heart was racing, my hands clammy. Really? Over a pair of boots I might not have the nerve to wear in public (or private) in the spirit of discovering their effect on the right man? The site registered my bid, and the high bid jumped from $18.99 to $31.99 at 2 seconds to go – and then, CONGRATULATIONS, YOU WON! My girlfriend in London did a happy dance with me virtually.

bootsMaybe the boots have certain magical powers like Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers. Almost as a reaction to my stepping over the edge of reason, the universe conspired and an OKCupid suitor sent me an invitation to be his guest in Egypt at the end of November.   (I doubt these will be in my luggage.)

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