Feb 15, 2014

Dylans Historic Newport Stratocaster up for Auction

On Dec. 6, 2013, Christie’s of New York will auction the 1964 Fender Stratocaster guitar that was played by Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival in July of 1965. The guitar is expected to bring between $300,000 and $500,000.

Stratocasters of this vintage without notable provenance regularly sell for $30,000 or less. Apparently, rock ’n’ roll provenance demands a premium price.

Stratocasters with impressive provenance have sold for impressive prices before. In June 1999, Christie’s sold Eric Clapton’s 1956 Strat for $497,500. In 2004, another Clapton Strat sold for $959, 500. Both of these sales were to benefit the Crossroads Centre, a drug-and-alcohol rehabilitation center founded by Clapton. A third Strat autographed by several celebrities (including Clapton) was sold in 2006 for $2.8 million to benefit the victims of the 2004 Asian tsunami. If rock ’n’ roll provenance is worth big bucks, rock ’n’ roll provenance attached to a cause is worth even more. But what about the Dylan Stratocaster? What makes this guitar so valuable? It’s not autographed, and it’s not being auctioned to benefit a cause.

Auction pundits say that the guitar’s value is tied to its place in rock ’n’ roll history. Rolling Stone Magazine marks Dylan’s performance at Newport one of the “50 Moments that Changed the History of Rock ’N’ Roll.” Perhaps that’s true; but this Strat’s place in history and the price that it might bring at auction is not the most interesting part of this story. In my opinion, the real story is how the guitar came to be in this auction in the first place.  Read More...

Feb 13, 2014

What to do with an Estates Upholstered Furniture

Writer Amy Gale, in her book “Shows, Shops, & Auctions: Essays on the Antiques Trade,” recounts a tale of London surgeon Samuel Sharp, traveling in Italy in 1760. In the late 18th century, says Ms. Gale, the Italian countryside was a place of “hunger, lawlessness and filth.” Dr. Sharp would agree with her conclusion. On one night in particular, he so feared the uncleanliness of the proffered bed that he passed the night sleeping on a bench. Said Dr. Sharp of the bedding: “All the way to Naples we never once crept within the sheets, not daring to encounter the vermin and nastiness of those beds.”

As an estate auctioneer, I’ve never encountered anything quite as nasty as what Dr. Sharp describes, although on a couple of occasions I have chosen to burn mattresses in the yard rather than put them into my truck. The problems with the used upholstered furniture found in the typical estate sale can go way beyond popcorn and potato chips between the sofa cushions; upholstery fabrics and stuffing absorbs spilled beverages, food, body fluids, dander, cosmetics, hair spray, pet odors and urine. Much of this filth passes through the upholstery cover fabric into the stuffing and isn’t readily seen. Upholstery stuffing can also harbor mold, mites and diseases. Spinal meningitis is commonly transferred through shared mattresses and bedding. On the American frontier, European diseases were spread among Native Americans by the blankets traded by colonists. Clearly, selling used mattresses and upholstered furniture comes with certain risks.

For this reason, states have established laws to control the sale of used bedding and upholstered furniture. Most states allow the sale of used mattresses and upholstered furniture, but sometimes they require that items be disinfected and tagged with a declaration that the item is used and has been sterilized according to the state requirement. Read More...

Feb 11, 2014

D’Angelico and D’Aquisto: Masters of the Handmade Archtop Guitar

Handmade stringed musical instruments are seldom average. They are usually found at the extremes of quality: they are either gawdawful or sublime.

The “worst of the worst” are poorly assembled, using woods with mismatched tonal qualities. I’ve seen some fretted instruments—guitars, banjos, mandolins and dulcimers—that were absolutely beautiful and a delight to hold but couldn’t be played in tune because the frets were not installed parallel to each other. I’ve also seen and played very plain instruments that made me tingle with delight.

Unlike handmade instruments, mass-produced stringed instruments are manufactured with relative consistency. Within each price range, all the instruments from a particular manufacturer are of similar quality. You’ll seldom find a Yamaha guitar that’s a lemon. But, you won’t find one with the sublime tone of a handmade D’Angelico archtop, either.

What gives a D’Angelico archtop guitar its magnificent tone? You might as well ask why are violins by Stradivari and Guarneri so sought after. Is it the wood? The craftsmanship? The design? Pundits have argued these points for more than a century. Ask a craftsman how it’s done and the answer you’ll get is always something like, “I don’t know, I just kind of sense it.”

A craftsman’s sensibilities certainly play a part in turning out a quality handmade stringed instrument. But sensibilities alone won’t do the trick; there is also a considerable amount of skill involved. Skill can be taught and acquired by practice. Sensibilities—common sense or knack—can’t be taught. You either have it or you don’t. Craftsmen can waste a lot of time training apprentices who don’t have a knack for what they’re doing, so they’re very careful about who they choose to follow in their footsteps. Read More...

Feb 9, 2014

Planning for Business Success: Heeding 2013’s Lessons

Retailers of all sorts spend the month of January evaluating their previous years’ business performance. Christmas sales make such a contribution to a retailer’s year-end bottom line that any serious evaluation must wait until the holiday numbers are in. Some retailers find themselves sitting on a pile of cash in January that they use for getting current on bills, paying down debt and buying new inventory. Others find that their financial “hole” has only gotten bigger, and they frantically search for a way to keep treading water until business turns around. Such is the life of a retailer.

For those just coming off a successful year, the plan for the current year is often “just keep doing what we’re doing.” Makes sense to me. If the economy is stable, your customer base is growing, competitors aren’t eating you alive and cash flow is good, keeping the course is probably a good plan.

But that’s not often the case, is it? After all, this is retail. Whether you sell in a bricks-and-mortar store, online, in a mall, a flea market or show venues, we’ve come to understand that over the course of a year the bottom line is written in red ink more often than it is written in black ink. “Black Friday” is the day our profits go “into the black” (hopefully) and the rest of the year we’re seeing red.  Read More...