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Johannesburg’s Auction Nostalgia by The Auction Doyen

Chapter 1

Posted: 23 August 2019

The late 1950’s

As a seasoned auctioneer with more than 60 years in the industry there is nothing more remarkable than how the oldest commercial sales platform has changed over the period of my tenure. In 1959 Johannesburg was but a glimmer of what it is today, but somehow everyone was a lot more trustworthy. Even the largest auction houses were still mama/ papa style businesses, with the largest auction vendor being the TPA (Transvaal Provincial Administration) who once or twice a year conducted an auction of redundant road making equipment. Occasionally the Army or Navy also adopted the auction method to get rid of their surplus or abandoned assets. Worthy of mention was the ZAR or SAR (Railways) who sold odds and ends not collected, lost or damaged goods through a government employed auctioneer. The crowds were small but committed buyers one of which was mom who was there to buy the odd ½ bag of imported chemicals for Ten Shillings or One Pound only to sell it for double. That’s how she earned a living. Life was simple but somehow everyone was committed to living honestly and knew that one’s word was one’s bond.

Auctions were a formal affair with the Auctioneer dressed appropriately, suits were compulsory as were waistcoats and ties, with the older fancier gentlemen spats (shoe covers extending from the ankles covering the shoes general in white)

On auction day the red flag went up outside the premises and for a half hour preceding the start of the auction a bell was rung summonsing buyers.

In the 50’s and 60’s most buyers would arrive on their steel wheel, horse drawn carts with which they would remove their purchases. Those days saw incredible characters on the auction block. Famous names such as Arthur Meikle, Richard and Donald Currie among the pioneers in the business. The Curries conducted auctions of household goods during the week and on Wednesday afternoons in the “mart” an auction of property, usually houses took place.

Why Wednesday afternoon you may ask, the answer was that banks closed early on Wednesdays allowing managers the time to nip across to Curries to attend the auction and see what their repossessed properties realized on the sale.

Arthur Meikle was the first to establish an auction room in Johannesburg, selling loose chattels. He was reasonably successful in that his business had the advantage of being established in the late 19th  Century and had an excellent reputation. After the second world war, he secured the auction of thoroughbred horses for famous families such as the Oppenheimers of Anglo-American Fame, who used his services exclusively, until his demise.

 

In the 1960’s

Most of the auction companies were located where Carlton Centre is today. At that time the SAB (South African Breweries) plant occupied that space and subsequently moved to Isando.

Most of the smaller auction companies specialised in selling used and repossessed furniture or assets from deceased estates, and few insolvencies and liquidations. Now and again an auction of fine antiques and jewellery attracted big crowds producing great results. Money was plenty and collectables were the thing.

To be continued…

 

Source: Eddie Winterstein

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