By Claire Walla
Some kids dream of working in the E.R., fighting fires, or flying to the moon.
For Paul Bailey, it was auctioneering.
“One day, when I grow up,” Bailey remembered thinking, “I want to be an auctioneer!”
The son of an antiques dealer, Bailey had been a fixture at auctions across the East End from a very young age. He loved entering a room of worn possessions and artifacts; but, he particularly enjoyed listening to the auctioneer, who when describing each lot would essentially tell the story of how it came to be.
“I wish I could call this a profession,” Bailey, now 65 and a lawyer, wistfully admitted. Instead it’s a passion, although — lucky for him — it’s a passion he’s able to fuel this weekend.
On Saturday, June 2 Bailey will officiate a live auction at The Old Whalers’ Church in Sag Harbor. The items, high end antiques and furnishings offered by 15 or so dealers from across the East End, will be available for “inspection” at 9 a.m. The live bidding process will start promptly at 11 a.m. and is expected to last until 3 p.m., depending on how many items end up on the block. (According to Bailey, it takes roughly one hour for an auctioneer to run through 100 lots.)
Bailey initially thought of organizing the event with his daughter, Kelly, about three years ago as a fundraiser for Stella Maris Regional School. However, now that the school’s closed, the Baileys decided to transition their fundraising efforts over to the Old Whalers’ Church for the benefit of the Community House at Old Whalers’ which was established to improve and maintain the facilities used by groups such as the Sag Harbor Food Pantry, the Conservative Synagogue of the Hamptons, Alcoholics Anonymous and other organizations.
By partnering with local antiques stores here on the East End (among those taking part is Colette Home Consignment — which is putting up 300 lots alone — and English Country Antiques), Paul Bailey estimates he will ultimately auction-off anywhere from 200 to 400 lots. (The church will get roughly 20 percent of all sales.)
What’s more, in his estimation, Bailey said the event is the first of its kind on the East End in nearly 20 years. And he would know. Though never a full-fledged auctioneer, he has always been an avid auction-goer.
“If there’s an auction within my sightline,” he added, “I go.”
Auctions used to be an annual tradition on the East End, Bailey said. Most prominently etched into his memory now are the summer auctions, which took place each year in Water Mill, where they were run by a man named Charles Vanderveer.
“He did auctions for a living,” Bailey explained. “I was just fascinated by him, so I went up to him one day and asked if he needed a hand.”
Bailey was about 18 years old at the time, and ended up being his assistant for a few years.
Vanderveer didn’t do “a-mile-a-minute;” that verbal technique is reserved for those who’ve attended auctioneering school. (Yes, they do exist. At one point, Bailey even considered attending. “I wanted to be able to talk fast, just for fun,” he said.) Instead, Vanderveer gave Bailey insight into the back-end of the business.
“Being at the podium and doing the auction, that’s only 20 percent of it,” Bailey said. “The biggest issue is getting things organized.”
There are roughly 50 jobs that will be filled (by volunteers) at Old Whalers’ between Friday — when the consigners deliver the auction items — and Sunday, when the last of the items sold are expected to be picked up. These positions range from transporting lots, to guarding the lots during “inspection” and — perhaps most importantly — keeping an accurate list of who bid for what.
They’ll have their work cut out for them — goods to be sold include furniture, lighting, rugs, glassware, vintage toys and one-of-a kind pieces dating anywhere from the late 19th century to the 1960s.
But, behind the podium, Bailey will have his work cut out for him, as well.
Each lot will come in with a minimum dollar amount set by the consignor. While the auction will typically start below that asking price, it’s the auctioneer’s job to try to reach that goal, if not exceed it. Bailey is responsible for setting the pace of the auction by deciding increments.
For example, if the bidding for a table worth $300 started at $200 and several cards were up in the first round of bidding, Bailey might increase the selling point by increments of $25. For less popular items, increments might go up by $10.
“You have to watch your audience and pay attention to who’s bidding,” Bailey said. “Some bidders try to be subtle,” he added with a tinge of disdain. “And if they get lost in the bidding process, they squawk.”
Ultimately, Bailey said the real draw of the auction process is the thrill of discovery.
He continued, “You sit in a chair and you get an education.”
The live auction at Old Whalers’ Church (44 Union Street, Sag Harbor) is Saturday, June 2 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., with pre-inspection beginning at 9 a.m. The auction is unreserved and there is no buyers’ premium. The auction will take place rain or shine, under a tent on the front lawn weather permitting, otherwise in the main sanctuary of the church. The preview will be on the lower level of the church. A café on premises opens at 10:30 a.m., for cash sales of coffee, soft drinks, baked goods and hot dogs throughout the day.