January 18, 2007

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Nashua Publisher's Note: Auctions and death
By Jeff Rapsis

This week's Hippo cover story is about auctions, a topic on which I have mixed feelings. As a pack rat myself, I find them fascinating. But they can also be a little depressing, with their overtones of failure and loss and even death.

First, an observation: auctions are held across the nation, but it seems like our corner of the country is particularly fertile ground. I think this is basically because our turf has been occupied much longer, and so we've had more time for junk to accumulate.

Really. I was once in Fremont, Nebraska (don't ask), and saw signs for an "old-time farm auction" that evening. I went, and it was exactly as advertised: an auction house was selling off rusty farm implements and agricultural equipment.

I wondered where all the antiques were until a guy pointed out that the whole area wasn't settled until after the Civil War. (Hey, most of the stuff in my mother's Nashua basement predates that!)

Back home, auctions in our little corner of the world offer a richer load—sometimes generations' worth of bric-a-brac, with always the chance that some incredible rarity might turn up, like a first edition of Edgar Allen Poe.

Poe is appropriate for auctions, as one of their little-talked-about aspects is how they can be creepy affairs where you unexpectedly confront death and your own mortality. For instance, take an estate auction my wife and I attended a few years back that put the fear of God into me.

What happened was a woman in Manchester had lived in the same house for more than 60 years. She apparently never threw anything away. When she died, her family settled the estate by hiring an auction house to sell the contents all in one day.

We attended, and were shocked to see such items up for bid as an entire cardboard box filled with empty plastic frozen orange juice containers. God only knows what she was saving them for, but now she was gone. And there's nothing like a giant cardboard box full of empty orange juice containers to make you question what your life is adding up to.

We didn't buy anything. Instead, we both went home and immediately started cleaning out the basement.?