The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 2, Issue 5 (September 1, 1927)
The Romance of The Lost Property Sale
I Heard a story recently concerning the different characteristics of English, Scotch and Irish. It was to the effect that on arriving at his destination by train the Irishman walked straight out of the car, the Englishman looked round to see if he had forgotten anything, and the Scotchman searched the car thoroughly to see if any person had forgotten anything.
Well, judging by the number of articles that find their way into the Lost Property Depôt, the majority of our train travellers are Irishmen -or Irishwomen-because it is usually the members of the gentler sex who leave their property behind them. And then how delightfully vague they are when they come to make inquiries-difficult to pin them down to anything definite. They are inclined to fuss greatly over a small thing, and to take comparatively calmly the loss of a valuable article. Only a few weeks ago a fur coat worth probably £50 reached the Depôt. There was no inquiry for it until three days later, when the owner called. When asked if she had not been worried over her loss, she replied that she knew it would turn up all right -a striking example of faith in the members of the Railway staff.
The annual sale of unclaimed articles was recently held at Auckland. A large goods shed had been cleared and the articles for sale methodically stacked, and surrounded by a wooden barrier breast high, to fence off the public. Many days had been spent in sorting out and cataloguing the articles due to be sold. Every possible clue as to ownership of the various articles had been followed up, and some “eleventh hour” deliveries were made, but most of the letters of inquiry came back through the Dead Letter office. A total of 1,503 articles had been grouped into 633 lots, each marked with a sale number.
The morning of the sale broke wet and cold, and at the starting hour rain was steadily falling. In spite of this, a crowd of about 200 of “all sorts and conditions of men” (and women)were pressed closely round the barriers, eagerly waiting for this year's annual sale to begin-a sale that has been conducted at Auckland by the firm of R. C. Carr & Son for about 30 years without a break. Until about five years ago Mr. Carr, senr., wielded the hammer, but since then his son has carried on.
Taking his stand on a large packing case Mr. Carr looked round genially on the crowd, and stated his pleasure at seeing so many old familiar faces, and he said he was also pleased to see many new ones. He reminded them that the terms were “spot cash” and asked them to bid up briskly as there were many lots to dispose of. (These sales commence at 9.30 a. m. and go on without a break until finished, in this case 5 p. m. a very tiring day for all who have duties connected with the sale.)
The auctioneer had some of his regular hands assisting him, prominent among them being “Ernie” quite a comedian in his way, and a wonderful hand at provoking stray bids when things were inclined to lag a bit. The first lot offered was a chest of drawers which “Ernie” informed the crowd was well-filled, but without disclosing the contents to their view. Bidding rose quickly to £5, at which price it was knocked down. Thereafter the various lots followed one another in quick succession. Sometimes there would be a lull in the bidding, and article would be added unto article, “Ernie” all the time passing up and down the crowd, dropping a word here and there until a bid came, but on the whole the bidding was very satisfactory. In fact it was rather surprising-in view of the hard times existing at present-how well the buying was maintained throughout the day.
To one having his first experience of a sale of this kind it proved very interesting. The auctioneer, striving hard to keep the attention of his crowd, to keep them in a good humour and coax the best possible prices out of them-the crowd, eager, expectant, keen on the look-out for “snips”-the auctioneer's men moving here and there displaying the goods, collecting the cash, and amusing everyone with their witty remarks-these together formed an interesting whole. One man at an early stage of the proceedings bought a step-ladder and promptly used it as grand-stand, from whence he surveyed the scene in comfort. A touch of colour was given to the proceedings by the presence of two small groups of Maoris. On an ukulele being put up the auctioneer was quick to interest them in it, and succeeded in selling it to a dusky maiden for 11/-. Shortly afterwards his persuasive powers resulted in a young Maori man finding himself the purchaser of a steel guitar for 37/6, and a little later of a much-dented bowler hat which he promptly donned to the great amusement of the crowd, and apparently also to himself. On the whole the sale proceeded smoothly, the geniality of the auctioneer and the witticisms of “Ernie” greatly conducing to this.
There was only one discordant note. A suitcase had been put up and described (correctly) page 7 as “containing tools.” Bidding proceeded briskly until the article was knocked down for 15/-. About half an hour later proceedings were rudely interrupted by this purchaser, pushing his way roughly through the crowd, holding up the open suit-case (now empty), and declaring that he had been swindled. He demanded his money back.
Fortunately the complainant had been seen to go outside the shed, open the suit-case, and remove the tools. The auctioneer was promptly advised of this as soon as the man appeared, and in consequence he received very short shrift.
Another incident of an entirely different nature occurred. A suit-case was put up, and the auctioneer craved the indulgence of the crowd to make an explanation regarding it. He explained that it was the property of a poor woman who had experienced a lot of trouble and ill-health who, being in very straitened circumstances, had been unable to pay the charges due. He explained, however, that the suit-case must be auctioned, and put it up accordingly. As a result of his remarks no one bid against the poor woman, and she obtained her property for 2/6. A hand sewing-machine, the property of the same woman, was also knocked down to her for 2/6, but advised the auctioneer that she was unable to pay for it. On this being made known another woman in the crowd handed over the money, for which kindly act she was heartily applauded.
The bulk of the articles sold consisted of umbrellas, walking sticks, hats, gloves, and small parcels. Umbrellas (in bundles of 6) brought 6/6 to 16/6 per bundle. Walking sticks (in bundlesof 6) 2/6 to 6/6 per bundle. Hats (all sorts) in lots of 6, 2/6 to 4/-; swags 1/- to 14/-. Coats(in bundles of 6) 3/- to 20/- per bundle. Bicycles (of which there were 6-all gents') 10/-to 27/6. Jewellery was hardly saleable-gold rings bringing only 1/- to 8/-; gold bangles 6d. to 4/-; and watches 3/- to 4/-. There was a good demand for small parcels of clothing which sold two or three together up to 10/- a lot. A side-saddle in first-class order was difficult of sale at 3/- -a real bargain. What was described as a bale of twine brought 17/- and on being opened it was found to contain about 40 balls of office twine of good quality, showing a prospective profit ofat least 100 per cent.
Amusement was caused from time to time when purchasers of suit-cases, etc., opened them out in view of the crowd and displayed the contents, especially when a young man became the possessor of a suit-case well filled with lady's wearing apparel.
As the afternoon wore on the crowd gradually dwindled away, but 30 or 40 people stayed on until the hammer fell on the last article at about 5 p.m. All concerned in the work of the sale then squared up and went home very tired, but happy in the thought that there was an interval of 12 months before the next sale, during which time they might recuperate and fit themselves for another strenuous day.page break