Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Winston Churchill’s sofa sells for £7,500 at auction

A sofa that had once belonged to Britain’s war-time Prime Minister Winston Churchill has fetched 7,500 pounds at auction, despite being valued at just 80 pounds.

Originally destined for a skip, the battered and ripped Chesterfield was saved when the brother of the late owner mentioned the connection.

The settee was found in the shed of a tumbledown Northamptonshire vicarage by auctioneers, after they had been asked to undertake a probate valuation when its owner died.

Jonathan Humbert, of JP Humbert Auctioneers, revealed that the sofa would have to be disposed of as it was no longer usable.

However, said the auctioneer, the plan was reconsidered after the owner’s brother remarked that it was a shame because it had once belonged to Churchill.

“We were going to throw it away but when the chap mentioned its Churchill link, we thought we’d run it for a bit of a laugh,” the Telegraph quoted him as saying.

“On the one hand it’s clapped out, but on the other hand it’s got this illustrious heritage. Who knows what famous rears sat on it,” he added.

According to the brother, the late-19th-century leather settee had graced Churchill’s private Whitehall office during his second premiership from 1951 to 1955, before he gave it to a friend from Northamptonshire.

It was the same friend that had passed it on to its last owner, who then stored it in his shed when it became too old to use.

Humbert said that he spelt out to interested buyers that there was no written proof of the sofa’s provenance, just a spoken record, but that did little to dent their interest.

“It shows the high regard with which Churchill is still held throughout the world.

And so much for the global credit crunch. Everything is worth what someone is prepared to pay for it,” he said. (ANI)

Dillinger pistol sold at U.S. auction for $95,600

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A small pistol belonging to 1930s gangster John Dillinger has been sold at auction to a private collector for $95,600 -- more than double the pre-sale estimate, the auction house said on Sunday.

The Remington .41 caliber Double Derringer was said to have been found hidden in one of Dillinger's socks when he was arrested in Tucson, Arizona in January 1934, said Dennis Lowe of Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas.

According to affidavits, the pistol was given by the then Tucson sheriff to a probation officer and kept in the family until selling it in 1959.

The owner, who wished to remain anonymous, sold it because he was in declining health, Lowe said. It had been expected to fetch about $35,000 - $45,000 at the auction on Saturday in Dallas. A private Los Angeles collector made the winning bid of $95,600.

Dillinger, one of the most infamous bank robbers in the United States in the early 1930s, was shot dead by FBI agents in Chicago in July 1934 at the age of 31.

His exploits have inspired at least five movies or TV films including the most recent release "Public Enemies" in which Dillinger is portrayed by actor Johnny Depp.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Steering wheel from Hughes' plane to be auctioned

On July 7, 1946, his clothes ablaze, Howard Hughes was pulled from the fiery wreckage of his experimental aircraft by a Marine sergeant. In gratitude, the eccentric billionaire gave his rescuer the steering wheel from the downed plane.
The aircraft control yoke, sheared off at the base, is one of eight items from the estate of Sgt. William L. Durkin going on the auction block. They will be sold as one lot at Swann Auction Galleries on Sept. 17 for an estimated $40,000 to $60,000.
The crash, in the backyard of a Beverly Hills mansion, was the centerpiece of Martin Scorsese's acclaimed 2004 film "The Aviator," which starred Leonardo DiCaprio as Hughes.

Hughes was burned on 78 percent of his body. Ever indebted to Durkin for saving his life, he also arranged a lifetime pass for the Marine to Hollywood's Players nightclub and sent a letter promising a "small check" of $200.

These are also part of the sale. Durkin's descendants have decided to sell the items because "They thought it was time for the material to move on and get out into the world," said Swann's Americana expert Rick Stattler.

Hughes died in 1976.

"My company, which feels duly grateful to you, is sending a small check," Hughes said in the letter addressed to Durkin and typed on Hughes Aircraft Company letterhead. "Another will follow each month until you return here for the discussion I have suggested"—a reference to possible work for Durkin in aviation or other enterprises in which Hughes was involved.

Stattler said the appeal of the auction was that the crash was a dramatic moment in history that involved not only a major accident over one of the wealthiest communities in California—in itself a major news story—but also "one of the country's most famous entrepreneurs."

He likened it to a plane crash today involving the likes of Donald Trump or Bill Gates.

Stattler said the aviator and film director "clutched (the yoke) as he skimmed along those houses, and then crashed in someone's backyard."

The sale's additional appeal is that it involves "the other key figure in the crash ... the Marine who saved Hughes' life," Stattler said.

He said the letter of thanks from Hughes is signed. However, Swann was still researching whether the signature is Hughes'.

"His signatures are very difficult to authenticate," he said. "Later in life, many of the signatures that appear from Hughes do not match with each other." He said Hughes sometimes had aides sign for him.

The letter's original mailing envelope is stamped Culver City, CA, Dec. 23, 1946.
Also included in the sale is Durkin's detailed account of the crash and rescue, which he typed up as an official statement to crash investigators.

"I heard a sound inside the cockpit like someone knocking or pounding ... At the same time I heard a scream of agony, and I knew a man was burning to death," Durkin wrote.

Hughes developed the prototype military reconnaissance plane for the U.S. Army Air Force. He was taking it on a test flight when it crashed and struck three homes.
Durkin, who was visiting friends near the site of the crash, pulled Hughes to safety shortly before the plane's fuel tank exploded.

When Durkin died in 2006, his daughter said her father never accepted any big payoff from Hughes because he felt he was only doing what was right.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Auction Offers the Moon--Or at Least NASA Gear That's Been There

Stargazers will have the opportunity to get their hands on photos, charts, models and other space race relics from NASA missions thanks to an auction to commemorate the Apollo 11 moon mission

From Scientific American

As the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing approaches (on July 20), artifacts spanning a range of NASA's manned space exploration program—from Mercury and Gemini to Apollo and beyond—are being made available to the public as expensive keepsakes. On July 16, Bonhams & Butterfields New York will auction off about 400 lots that include astronaut apparel and equipment, components taken from Apollo lunar and command modules, and photos and charts chronicling the space program's early days.

The items are expected to fetch anywhere from a few hundred to hundreds of thousands of dollars, with the higher prices going to equipment that's actually been in space (even as far as the lunar surface). For example, Bonhams anticipates an attitude controller assembly from the Apollo 15 lunar lander Falcon, a joystick of sorts that used by the astronauts to maneuver the craft, could command as much as $300,000. A checklist worn by an Apollo 16 astronaut that was attached to the cuff of his spacesuit to help him remember the variety of assigned tasks while exploring the lunar surface could likewise sell for $300,000.

Many of the items have been autographed by the astronauts themselves and come from their personal collections.

Monday, 13 July 2009

At Swoopo, Shopping's Steep Spiral Into Addiction

Shopping site Swoopo combines the addictiveness of auctions and the chance element of lotteries to entertain its users -- and reap a profit pennies at a time.

By Mark Gimein, The Washington Post.

Imagine for a second that you've set out to come up with an online shopping site that would take advantage of everything we know about consumer behavior.

Your goal is to separate people from their money as efficiently as possible. What would you do? You'd probably try to draw buyers in with bargain prices. You'd pit them against one another in an auction. You'd ask them to make snap decisions without taking much time to figure out just how much money they're spending. On top of that, you'd ask for only very small amounts of money at any one time, letting payments of a few cents build to hundreds of dollars.

But relax. Someone's beaten you to it: the folks at It's an online auction site that fiendishly plays on every irrational impulse buyers have to draw them in to what might be the crack cocaine of online shopping sites.

I discovered Swoopo through an online ad plugging its latest deal, a fancy desktop computer at more than 90 percent off. If you are already saying to yourself that there is a catch, you are right. Swoopo, which bills itself as an "entertainment shopping" site, combines the addictiveness of auctions and the chance of lotteries into what may be the most devious way to separate folks from their money yet devised.

At first glance, -- which began in Germany as a phone and TV-based auction site called Telebid, migrated to the web as "Swoopo," and launched its U.S. site last year -- looks like an auction site patterned on eBay, with prices for most items starting at a penny and rising as members "bid" up the price. Like eBay, Swoopo has a full panoply of auction tools, such as comprehensive records of all completed auctions and an electronic bidding system ("Bid Butler") that will put in last-second bids to keep you in the auction. Unlike eBay, however, on Swoopo you pay 60 cents each time you make a bid.

Sixty cents? Sure doesn't sound like much when a $1,000-plus camera or computer is at stake. But consider the MacBook Pro that Swoopo sold recently for $35.86. Swoopo lists its suggested retail price at $1,799. But then look at what the bidding fee does. For each "bid," the price of the computer goes up by a penny, and Swoopo collects 60 cents. To get up to $35.86, it takes a stunning 3,585 bids -- and Swoopo gets its fee for each. That means that before selling this computer, Swoopo took in $2,151 in bidding fees. Yikes.

In essence, what your 60-cent bidding fee gets you at Swoopo is a ticket to a
lottery, with a chance to get a high-end item at a ridiculously low price. With each bid, the auction is extended for a few seconds to keep it going as long as someone in the world is willing to take just one more shot. This can go on for a very, very long time. The winner of the MacBook Pro auction bid more than 750 times, accumulating $469.80 in fees.

What makes Swoopo so fiendishly compelling is the tendency of people to think of the bids that they have already put in as a "sunk cost" -- money that they have already put toward buying the item. This is an illusion. The fact that you have already bid 200 times does not mean that your chance of winning on the 201st bid is any higher than it was at the very beginning. A new bidder can come in at any time and at the cost of a mere 60 cents jump into the auction in which you've already spent more than $100. The money you've put in has gotten you no closer to the goal than a losing raffle ticket.

Some of the ideas behind Swoopo have been explored in a theoretical way by game theorists. The reluctance of bidders to say goodbye to their "sunk cost" has been explored by economists such as Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky -- and has been found to draw bidders deeper into the game. Swoopo plays off those insights to efficiently get people to make bad choices. It's the evil stepchild of game theory and behavioral economics.

Another irrational impulse Swoopo plays off of is an urge to believe that there must be some strategy that beats the system. As Swoopo's own business development director, Chris Bauman, told one blogger: "Winning takes two things: money and patience. Every person has a strategy." Indeed, they undoubtedly do. The problem is that none of those strategies will actually work. Just remember that no matter how many times you bid, your chance of winning does not increase. And the bigger Swoopo gets, the worse it will be. The more people sign on to bid, the lower your chances become -- and the more Swoopo collects in bidding charges. The only winning strategy is not to play in the first place.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Auctioneering can be a tough business

Auctioneering can indeed be a tough business, see the story below of what happened to an Oregon auctioneer. I liked the bit "The auction continued with another man working as the auctioneer while the victim was taken to a hospital and deputies searched for the attacker" - true professionals, 'the show must go on!'

Auctioneer's Throat Slashed During Auction
Deputies Seeking Man In Woodburn Attack

WOODBURN, Ore. -- An auctioneer had his throat slashed at a Woodburn auction yard on Tuesday, sheriff's deputies said.

Witnesses said a man got into an argument with the auctioneer during an auction just before noon and cut his neck with a box cutter.

One witness, Pete Hoogenbasch, said the guy seemed to think the auctioneer, whose name is Chuck, was ignoring him, so suddenly he attacked Chuck.

"He flipped out over something real simple, nothing major. And then the guy came up and he was cussing at him like a trooper. Then Chuck made a crack about that and the guy came up on the cart and cut him," Hoogenbasch said.

Marion County sheriff's spokeswoman Lt. Sheila Lorance said the auctioneer was taken to a hospital but his condition is unknown at this time.

Several people started chasing him and yelling at others to catch him and that's when Michael Melbye stepped in.

"I tried to grab him over there because I thought he stole something," Melbye said.

He said he didn't see the attack but noticed the man frantically trying to get away. He said the guy tried to hitch a ride with a passing driver, but Melbye got a hold of him.

"He backed up and he says, 'Get away from me or I'm going to cut you.' And he opened up his box knife and I said, 'Man, that's not going to do you any good. What the heck, you know? Why you want to get in trouble over something you stole?' Well, I didn't know he cut Chuck," Melbye said.

The man who slashed the auctioneer's throat jumped over a fence on the north side of the auction yard and ran toward a nearby mobile home park, Lorance said.

The auction continued with another man working as the auctioneer while the victim was taken to a hospital and deputies searched for the attacker.

Deputies said they found and arrested Jeremiah D. Thomasson, 22, at about 3 p.m. on charges of first-degree assault, attempted murder and unlawful use of a weapon. They said they found Thomasson about a mile away in the mobile home park.

According to the auction yard's Web site, it auctions general merchandise, poultry, vehicles and nursery stock every Tuesday. The Woodburn Auction Yard is located on S Pacific Highway.

Auction regulars said they want the man who attacked Chuck to be punished for what he did.

"I know there's a lot of Chuck's friends out here who'd like to take him behind the barn and teach him lessons about how to treat people," Hoogenbasch said.