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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Southern Counties Auction Confirmed

Yesterday I was pleased to confirm rumours that have been circulating for a while about another Southern Counties vintage slot machine auction. It's scheduled for the same time as last year: 21st of May with viewing on the preceding Saturday.

This time around, they're running the sale themselves (previously a team of us organized the sale and hired the venue and an auctioneer) but you will be able to consign items and order catalogues through this site again. Payments by cash, cheque or credit card will be accepted.

Hopefully this will be a yearly fixture. Certainly we could do with a few more sales on the horizon. I think the venue was ideal with ample on-site parking, comfortable modern saleroom, bar, cafe and nice clean loos! Best of all, the sellers and buyer's commission is to stay at 5%.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Costa Sale Report

I think the results of the Nic Costa Collection of Amusement Machines sale at Christie's last Thursday were largely unremarkable. The slight anomalies price-wise were the three Mutoscopes and the American bandits. The red tin-type Mutoscope, in particular, at £2400 plus premium may be some kind of record. I suspect this was because they appeal to the wealthy impulse buyer looking for a novel curiosity piece more than the regular collector. The bandit prices also failed to reflect their poor condition.

Reserves were sensible on the whole, and often the hammer was going down around the lower estimate. I don't read the results as any indication of a price crash. The value of really early British wall machines (which formed 90% of this sale) declined almost a decade ago when some of the first generation of serious collectors (such as Nic Costa himself) withdrew from the scene and for various reasons have remained in the doldrums. Meanwhile, the value of 1930s to 1950s machines has crept up and sometimes overtaken them. This mirrors the way silver-age jukeboxes are now more sought-after than golden-age ones.

Another factor keeping hammer prices down was the generally poor condition of the lots. Although there were a few nice and originals, most were in the as found, out-of-order or incomplete category - intimidating first time buyers and more seasoned collectors alike (who know how hard it is to restore such specimens). Coupled with this, they were old stock, comprising the unsold remnants of the Costa-Haskell catalogue which has been on the market since 1997. About a quarter failed to make their reserves, and in some instances one could see why.

Finally, the not so small matter of Christie's phenomenal 20% buyer's premium, (plus VAT on the premium) means that an item knocked down at £650, such as Lot 60, the Challenger wall machine (actually a mislabeled Crusader) cost the buyer £802.75. The vendor on the other hand takes home what's left of the £650 after Christie's have subtracted their seller's commission, insurance/loss damage liability, shipping, illustration fees, etc. I can't see the attraction.

Having said all this, there were some excellent purchases to be made by the discerning collector, some fine and rare pieces, even a few genuine bargains.

Although there was some 'phone bidding from America and elsewhere, there was less than half the number of bidders in the room than at your average dedicated slot auction. I know the central London location puts some off. Congestion fees and meters limited to two hours parking make access awkward. Like many, I avoided this by letting the train take the strain, which meant lugging a curious (but mercifully small package) home via the Underground.

The items were attractively presented thanks to Laurence Fisher who went out of his way to be helpful and welcoming to everyone who visited.

I met Jelle Zijlmans at the sale, proprietor of a small private slot machine museum in Weesp just outside Amsterdam. He opens on Sundays and by appointment at other times. Well worth a visit, I'd say.