Going, going, gone!

2011-07-22 10:51

These days, everyone seems to be jumping on the “go green, recycle and consume less” bandwagon. Exhibitions such as Design Indaba are preaching minimalism and a clutter-free environment, but it’s easier said than done.

Throwing out granny’s pearly pink lampshade and buying a new one at Bakos Brothers seems like the obvious route, but Paul Brown, the host of Auction Kings, a new series on Discovery Channel (Mondays at 6.40pm) disagrees.

An unwanted item could be serious cash in your pocket and provide someone else with a piece of your family history. More importantly, for the environment, it means recycling.

Of course, it’s a tricky skill that can take years of practice, laments the former car washer: “Unless we’re soothsayers or some sort of clairvoyant, we will never know. I’ll give you an example. A long time ago, there was Tiffany Glass & Decorating Company, which made stained-glass lamps. Over the past few years, the Art Deco style has taken over and those Tiffany lamps are now virtually priceless.

However, they were discarded as common, household rubbish and thrown away. So, what I would suggest is to take yourself out of today’s style and put yourself back into time and look at quality.”

Imbuya wardrobes made out of solid wood or hardwood floors are items often found in any old, long-standing South African home.

“Quality will survive. Style might not, but quality will. So if something was made with quality, with love, by a master even, it will come back. Styles come and go, quality remains,” says Brown, who runs Gallery 63 in the US, which is a warehouse of liquidated items such as Bibles, jewellery and a Rolling Stones snooker table.

Of course the economics, as with anything, plays a role in the auctioning business.

“I guess globally the economy has not been great, so we have more products on the market. Overall, my industry at large is insulated from economic situations. Either the market is poor and I make up for it in volume, or the market is good and I make up for it with sales.”

Similar in some instances to BBC shows such as Cash in the Attic, Antiques Roadshow and Pawn Stars on the History Channel, this series sees Brown and his team auction off some amazing items for hefty price tags.

“Gallery 63 basically is a consignment auction gallery. So I will sell virtually anything. I don’t like household junk, like old pots and pans, but anything of value we will sell,” Brown says.

The hit reality TV show has really taken off in the US. Brown received more than 300 emails after the first episode aired.

“I got a phone call about two years ago from a production company about doing a reality show at an auction house and I hung up the phone,” he reminisces. “I thought he was trying to sell me something. He called back, thankfully, and they sent me a little flip camera and asked me to do a day in the life of Gallery 63 and apparently they liked it. We shot for six months. When the show aired, I was like, ‘I’m in this thing deep’. But it’s been fun,” Brown laughs.

Not to be outdone by the prized art pieces, expensive jewellery and antique furniture, Brown says he’s seen some odd “collectables” over the years, including teeth.

“A couple of years ago, this woman walked in the door with a brown bag that made this rattling noise, and it was a full set of human teeth. She insisted that somebody would pay something for them. I sold the teeth for $100 to this hippy couple, who made jewellery out of them. It’s $100 more than I would have paid.”

The Atlanta native grew up in the antique business, but his ambitions were elsewhere – like in a rock band. He studied literature, but somehow ended up buying and selling antiques.

“I grew up going to auctions, but I wanted to be an English professor. That didn’t pan out, so I began working in the family business and 17 years later, I’m still there.”

Brown may have sold a bag of old teeth, but his most prized find to date has been Martin Luther King’s speeches. “I ended up with an entire folio of his first-draft speeches with his handwritten edit notes and diacritical marks. I wasn’t able to sell them due to copyright, so I made photocopies and hung them up on the wall.”

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