Some Auction Action

For the past two weekends we’ve skipped our local estate sales and thriftstores in favor of visiting a few, local auctions.  Compared with our usual haunts, auctions take a lot more effort, but they can certainly be worth it if you know what to look for and how to shop.  Last week’s auction was over an hour drive from Seattle, but we had spotted some interesting lots, filled with mid-century Finnish glass.  We poured through the auction catalog and we were especially happy when we spotted a large Tapio Wirkkala Orkidea vase labeled as a “Modern Art Glass Vase.”  Most local auction companies run weekly or bi-monthly auctions so they don’t have time to research every last listing in their catalog; when you’re looking through a catalog make sure to go through every photo, because your knowledge very well may pay off!

At this particular auction, the auctioneers stuck a good number of pieces in box lots.  These are a mixed blessing because you are literally purchasing everything they can fit into a box.  In the case of the Iittala glassware, however, we were more than happy to pay for the entire box!  (Yes, we bought an entire box filled with Iittala glasses.)  Sadly, unless you’re the only person who knows the value of something, be prepared to pay more than thriftstore prices at most auctions.  The audience of this auction was populated almost entirely with dealers who, even if they don’t know what Iittala is, know that it’s interesting and probably worth a buck.

We research each listing we’re interested in BEFORE the auction so we arrive there with our maximum price already written in stone.  But once you get to the auction you have to pick up each item you’re planning to purchase and check the condition.  We really wanted to buy a Nuutajarvi glass bird at this auction…until we saw that it had a sizable chip, that is!

This weekend, Mr. Butter went to another auction in an entirely different part of the city and found another treasure trove of Finnish glassware.  Last weekend’s auction took over 8 hours (no, really) in an unheated room filled with cranky dealers.  After that experience, as fun as it was, I decided to stay home and warm while he braved the second auction.  This one was an estate auction, which occurs in the house itself.  Thankfully, Mr. Butter was back after only 4 hours!

Yes, that’s even more Iittala glass.  The best score of the day was a box lot that included the two ceramic pieces in the front of the photo.  Both are beautiful pieces of Arabia that were grouped with a piece of mid-century studio pottery as “Box of Studio Pottery.”  It always pays to turn over everything in a box lot because you really never know what’s hiding!  Mr. Butter reported that this auction went a lot better than the last (read: he spent less money) until a dealer showed up who was willing to pay market value on everything.  He suspects that the dealer was going to ship the entire haul overseas, which makes sense because we know the going rate for this stuff in the local, US market.

Auctions are a lot of work, but they can definitely have some rewards.  But take it from us, bring snacks, a lot of patience, and come well-prepared!


  1. Reply
    sraikh January 22, 2012

    Auctions are a lot of work. I attended my first one last month and literally had to put the paddle in my handbag and zip it up. I was so ready to over bid on stuff. 🙂

    You are the Iittala glass queen

  2. Reply
    Beatriz - Mid Mod Mom January 22, 2012

    I would like to try an auction sometime soon, but I am scared to death that i would over spend. I need to study hard!
    Just looking at your great finds make my mouth water.

  3. Reply
    eliza dipper January 22, 2012

    I think I’m not brave enough for an auction, but you guys scored like crazy! Nice shopping, and great post.

  4. Reply
    Bryan January 22, 2012

    Cool scores! Glad that you had some success. I tried auctions for awhile a year ago, but gave up… it’s just not for me, plus the amount of dealers who are willing to overpay and who know their stuff is really discouraging here in LA. I have a feeling that they’re shipping it overseas too. Some of the auction houses here are also “connected” with the Reality TV circuit, which is also bleah. I might try it again one day, but only if it’s far in the boonies…

  5. Reply
    Van January 24, 2012

    I’m going to wait until I clear out a lot of merch and MOVE before I go to an auction and fill up on more vintage goodness. 🙂

    You guys scored- love the finds. And thanks for sharing the tips.

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