At first, it just sounds like gibberish. Even after your mind catches up to the words, your filter probably needs work.
After all, there are two excited men yelling into microphones at the same time on opposite sides of the room.
And you’re trying to listen to just one.
At the same time, couples are meandering around you, commenting on their favorite items. Self-styled old pros are picking over objects, feigning indifference to the piece that’s really caught their eye.
And — this can’t be overstated enough — here everyone gets to be a big shot.
This is Stoner’s Auction. Nestled miles from everything in southern Pennsylvania, around for over 60 years, with auctions nearly every Saturday of summer… There’s no place quite like it.
Chances are you’ve got a local version.
The Stoner’s Experience
If you’ve never been to a consignment-style auction, it can be a little intimidating.
There’s a lot of noise. A lot of code. A lot of speed.
But it’s a great introduction to auctions — and a great way to get comfortable with the format. After all, most items go for less than $10, which takes the pressure off a bit.
And most of the things being sold are curiosities or items of cheap utility. They won’t make or break your financial future.
Though there are the occasional bargains available — as you’ll see in a moment.
But first, let me explain the system used at Stoner’s…
On the main stage, there are individual items being sold. These tend to be the “nicer” items, those more likely to fetch a good price.
Paintings. Chandeliers. A three-foot-tall Wookiee doll. Every issue of Playboy from 1972–75. Napkin holders. A chest, including all the costume jewelry inside. Almost anything you can imagine — it could pass through the auctioneer’s hands.
The first section is reserved just for coins. Then come household items. Finally, there’s a time slot devoted entirely to furniture.
But that’s just the main stage. Frankly, the side stage might be more interesting — and more exciting.
That’s because on the side stage you’re usually not bidding on individual items. Instead, you’re bidding on boxes or bags full of stuff.
You can look through the boxes and bags before the auction, see if you can find any hidden gems. When I went, a bag full of cheap watches had one featuring Michael Jordan’s basketball-dunking profile — potentially a collector’s item.
These bags and boxes can contain all sorts of things. Old postcards. Three hundred pens that may or may not be dried out. A deconstructed light fixture. Christmas decorations. Old board games. Collector’s knives. You name it.
When the auction starts, it’s done by lot — basically, all the things being sold by one seller. There can be two boxes or 20. Everyone bids until you get a winner. Then that winner can take as many boxes or bags as they want, each at the high-bid price.
The bidding begins again for everything left over. And it keeps going that way until they’ve finished off the lot and move to the next one.
This introduces a lot of strategy…
You might have your eyes on a used cutlery set to gift to a niece headed to college… but the same lot has a bobblehead likely to attract the attention of collectors.
Do you try to outbid everyone to guarantee you get your bounty? Or do you let a few bidders win the first few rounds, counting on them taking the “obvious” choices and hope your box sticks around until the cheaper later rounds?
It’s a tough call. I usually waited. Once or twice it burned me.
But getting burned is relative when you’re talking about purchases that can be paid for with pocket change.
The afternoon I was there, I bought a binder of baseball cards for $3. The binder was identical to one my dad stored his baseball collection in — the nostalgia factor alone was worth the paltry price tag. And odds are good I’ll find at least a few cards in the collection worth a couple bucks.
I bought a Falkner collector’s knife for $5 in pristine condition with the original packaging. Similar knives on eBay start at $10 — and can go up fast. If I ever feel like selling, I’ve already doubled my money.
I also bought a wall-mounted working thermometer, barometer and hygrometer set in a lovely wood frame for $3. Again, the most similar pieces on eBay start at $10, but most are $20 and up. I’m looking at a 200% return at worst.
And — perhaps my proudest, strangest purchase — I got a Detecto medical scale for $2. You know the kind — they have the weights on top that you move to find the balance at your weight… they’ve got the telescoping height stick… they look like this:
That $2 purchase? I can’t find a single one of these on eBay for under $50 (and that one might not even be functional). Most are going for $100 and up.
The one I bought works perfectly. It does have a few rust spots… but then again, so do most of the used ones on offer on eBay.
This appears to be a shoe-in for a 25x return on my money — more likely 50x or more.
That’s if I decide to sell it. I’m a strange enough guy that I wouldn’t mind having a medical scale act as my personal bathroom scale. Especially since this thing will last forever, never require a battery, be more accurate than digital scales and start conversations with any guest who uses the bathroom.
That’s a pretty successful afternoon, if you ask me. Not to mention — bidding on these items is at least half the fun. With prices so reasonable, you can bid on any and everything that interests you.
If you haven’t been to an auction like this, I highly recommend it.
You can beef up any collections you’ve got… enjoy the oddities you won’t find anywhere else… and have fun jumping into the bidding fray without taking a big risk.
Not to mention — if you’ve got the eye for it, you can make crazy returns with every purchase. Truly, this might be the most fun I’ve ever had investing.
I can’t wait to go again!
Editor-in-chief, Unconventional Wealth
P.S. Have you ever been to an auction like this yourself? Ever bought oddities like this — either for fun, interest or as an investment? Tell us your stories at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ryan Cole is the editor-in-chief of Unconventional Wealth. He’s been covering the alternative investment space for nearly a decade and writing about finance and investment for almost 20 years.
Ryan has walked the walk for years, living a very unconventional life. He’s led snowmobile tours through the mountains of Colorado, settled in Japan for five...