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Watches, Fine Silver, and Diamonds

In the year of our Lord, 1959, a year well before the birth date of many of my readers, I was employed as a radar technician on the Atlantic Missile test range. The tale of that employment may possibly be found elsewhere. During my stint on Grand Bahama Island observing misbehaving rockets I made several vacation trips to Miami.

As is my wont, I had no schedule of places to visit and things to do. I simply wandered about and enjoyed myself. In those days Miami was a suitable place for wandering about and enjoying one's self.

You should understand that the Miami of yesteryear was not the Miami of today. Despite the many improvements in our national way of life since those bygone days it was a cleaner city then and altogether a more pleasant place to visit. I presume this assessment does not accord with received wisdom which holds that the 1950's were an era of cultural impoverishment and neolithic political attitudes. So be it. Received wisdom is always right. It always has been, always will be. Why it keeps changing from decade to decade is not a question you are supposed to ask.

In the course of my perambulations I discovered an establishment called Nossek's Art Gallery. I was enchanted by it and visited it often of occasion.

Despite its name, Nossek's Art Gallery was not an art gallery. There was no suite of rooms with strange paintings on the walls. No, it was an auction house.

From the outside it was a small storefront on a street of small stores. Within there was a small hall with seating for about fifty people. At the head of the hall was a raised platform and a dais where the auctioneer spieled.

They held auctions every day.

This is quite remarkable when you think about it, something I have never done heretofore. There are auctions and then there are auctions. Usually an auction is a one-time sale of a group of assets, be they cattle, the machinery of a bankrupt farmer, the assets of a failed business, the estate of a deceased person, or the artwork at a science fiction convention.

At Nossek's, however, they held auctions every day. It was, in its way, a store. But such a store! In most stores there are arrays of goods to tempt the purchaser. Prices may be fixed or they may be subject to negotiation but they are not set by bidding wars between customers.

How could such a thing be? The secret lay in their stock of goods. These were, they said, on consignment as distress sales and the like. Whether this was so, I know not. Their stock in trade was diamond rings, silver plate objects, swiss watches, and the like, luxury art items that are produced in quantity. They relied on street traffic for their audience.

Upon mature reflection, I expect that the prices people ended up paying for the items they purchased were rather higher than they might have been in a regular jewelry store. It was, after all, a business and one not far from being a scam. Still, it was entertaining and the goods being auctioned were as claimed.

In my first visit or two I purchased nothing. One afternoon I wandered in and sat down. The auctioneer's assistant brought out a silver-plated coffee and tea service set. There was a large tray, a coffee pot, a tea pot, and sundry little bowls. It was silver plate, not pure silver, but it was sheffield plate, elaborately scrolled. It gleamed very prettily in the light. The auctioneer asked for a minimum bid of $200.

Silence.

The auctioneer announced that he knew what the problem was. There was no money in the crowd. He said, "I'll tell you what I'm going to do." These are words to be wary of. He turned to his assistant and said, "Bring out the punch bowl." The assistant retreated to the back room and came out with a large punch bowl, also in Sheffield silver plate. The punch bowl was good-sized, some 15" across at the top. It came with its own tray, a dozen goblets, and a ladle, all in silver plate.

"Now," he said, "I'm going to see if there is any money in the audience. Who is willing to bid $225 for the silver service set AND the punch bowl?" He held up his hand. "Wait. The law of the auction says that I don't have to accept a first or a second bid. I don't have to sell them if I only have one bid. But I just want to see if anybody in the audience has any money. Who will bid $225?"

Fresh from the poker table, I had a pile of money in my pocket. That was a bodacious lot of silver sitting up there on the table. I put my hand up. Down comes his arm, pointing straight at me.

SOLD!

So there I was, all of a sudden, shy $225 and richer by a large pile of silver that I had no earthly use for and no place for. Having no better idea of what to do with it, I shipped it all to my mother. This was quite a hit back in Highmore, South Dakota. In the ordinary course of events my mother had no use for it either. Even Highmore, however, has social events. For a number of years she loaned it out to wedding receptions and other extraordinary social events. It is an unsobering thought that many a happy couple's health was drunk from those goblets. Thus did I do my part to further the population explosion.

Having been blooded, I visited Nossek's again and again. Over time I acquired a pair of silver candelabras, a swiss watch, and some diamond rings. One of them I gave to a sister, one I gave as an engagement ring, and one, a man's ring, I kept.

Time passed. I returned from the Bahamas to go to college in one of more forays into academia. In due course I returned to the Boston area. Eventually I had a place of my own where I could give the silver home. I sent for it and it has remained with me ever since, gracing parties.

This was sometimes odd. In another of my forays into academia I moved into a very slummy little apartment which, by a great stretch of the imagination, could be called a three room apartment. This was in an area of Boston which later underwent some local urban renewal, courtesy of landlords collecting fire insurance. My furnishings were minimal, to say the least. My entertainments were simple. I would sit in the middle of my slum-hole, polishing my elaborate collection of silver.

This page was last updated March 22, 1998.