Railroad Memories auction on Fri., Oct. 8, is loaded with great finds – from hardware to china
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Imagine: A mere century ago most people went from town to town or from state to state by rail, and virtually all goods – from raw materials, farm produce and livestock to every conceivable kind of finished merchandise and even the mail – were at some point carried on a train …
In America in the 19th century, trains were integral to the country’s explosive growth, geographically, economically and politically: They sped the industrialization of the Northeast before the Civil War and the rise of the Midwest’s urban centers in the Gilded Age that followed. Then there were the transcontinental links through prairie and canyon that are so much a part of the romance of the Old West: These were monumental undertakings that demanded engineering genius from the planners and the toil of countless laborers of different races, homegrown and immigrant. Some of these triumphs of human endeavor had a flip side – corruption, exploitation, bigotry, violence, not to mention the displacement of Native American residents – and I can say with confidence that none of the Irish, Chinese, newly freed African-Americans and others who broke their backs laying track and digging tunnels got a fair share of the wealth once the last spike was driven in and business started booming. Such injustices are part of our heritage, and we have a duty to know of them and learn from them; but they don’t diminish the importance of railroads in our history.
Bear this in mind as we enter the second decade of the twenty-first century, when most people travel long distances by car or plane; when consumer goods are usually delivered to our doors by truck; and when more and more personal communications traverse the countryside not along paths of steel but through a series of electronic connections in that intangible void called cyberspace. Think of it, too, now that our economic vitality is flagging and our foreign debt looms large. Fewer of us may go long distances by train nowadays, but it was the railroads that first put iron and steel into America’s backbone, its commercial infrastructure; the railroads were the sinews connecting America’s sprawling expanses, the arteries that nourished its entrepreneurial muscles, carrying its workers and its travelers, its products and its news, transforming it into a living, breathing, economically agile nation. Long before cars and trucks and planes, before Wi-Fi and text messaging, it was the railroads that did all that.
That said, I want to alert collectors and early-bird holiday gift-givers alike to the latest Railroad Memories (www.railroadmemories.com) auction, which is now online and closes Fri., Oct. 8, at 5 p.m. Mountain Time (that’s 7 p.m. EST and 4 p.m. PST). There are some 500 lots with a wide selection of great items in an equally wide price range: Even if you are not a railroad enthusiast per se, there is a lot of crossover into other collecting areas – dining car china and silver, glassware, lanterns, playing cards, badges, advertising, equipment and instruments, furniture and more – so don’t wait to check it out! It’s all vintage Americana, it’s all in great condition – you’ll find no flea market junk here – and it all smacks of nostalgia!
I participated in the last auction by Railroad Memories – based in Denver, where the railroad buffs are every bit as dedicated as the ones here in the Northwest – and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience … and that’s not just because I won something I really wanted. Frankly speaking, I hate the ANGST involved in bidding in most other auction: the constant checking of how high the bidding is on an item; the conflict over whether and when to bid higher when I’ve been outbid; the clock on the auction sites ticking off the minutes and seconds remaining, which adds to the pressure; even the bending of the rules I’ve witnessed during live online bidding as an auctioneer reopened a closed lot to get a higher hammer price.
Railroad Memories is comparatively low-tech and very low-stress: You just e-mail your best bid using a simple online sheet, or you can fax or call in your bid. (As I’ve written before, this removes the awful temptation to get sucked into a bidding war, which other online auctions – from eBay on up – profit from.)
[singlepic id=295 w=320 h=240 float=left]I also like the way the fact that the buyer’s premium for non-subscribing bidders is only 10 percent of the hammer price: Most auction houses charge about 20 percent. Or for $45 a year you can become a subscribing member of Railroad Memories, which means you pay NO buyer’s premium for items won, plus you receive a great catalog for each of the four annual auctions and a list of prices realized – excellent reference material for any “railroadiana” collector. The combined subscription and buyer’s premium exemption themselves are a great choice for the train lover on your holiday gift list.
“With this, our 77th issue of the auction catalog, we are proud to be offering many rare and seldom-found pieces,” Railroad Memories owner Susan Knous told me. “And the catalog has a wide, diverse selection, so that makes it even more enjoyable.”
I asked Susan about some of highlights of this auction. She noted, “One of the more unique items in this issue is a surveyor’s transit from the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad (Lot 130), patented April 30, 1901. It comes complete with a wooden tripod and the first we’ve ever had the opportunity to handle.
“Our usual assortment of quality lanterns includes one from the Florence & Cripple Creek Railroad (Lot 415), a narrow-gauge line here in Colorado that was gone by the early teens,” she continued. “The lantern has a red etched ‘F&CC’ and an extended-base globe, which is what makes this piece so desirable: Very few have survived.”
Want to add some refinement – as well as a great conversation piece – to your dinner table? “We are also proud to be offering a beautiful cut-glass water carafe from the Soo Line Railroad (Lot 285),” Susan pointed out. “This amazing and beautiful piece boasts the Soo Line banner logo. Pieces such as this are such a wonderful reminder of the beauty found on board a train in the early days.
“This auction also features many rare locks, keys, depot items and so much more, and all are sold with a full money-back guarantee for authenticity and customer satisfaction,” she added.
All images courtesy of Railroad Memories, www.RailroadMemories.com
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