September 19, 2006
Clars Auction Gallery has held their auctions live online for the past two years, and the impact the Internet has played in the auction world still amazes Clars’ President Redge Martin. One lot which he found particularly delightful to watch sell over the Internet was a Chinese zitan-stained hardwood and jade inlaid throne (baozuo), mid-late Qing dynasty. While the throne performed nicely selling for $15,210, it was not the winning bid that intrigued Martin, but rather where the buyer was from. Based on the lot, he said he would have anticipated the buyer being from China or perhaps even North America. The winning bid on the Chinese throne came from Spain.
However, if Martin was surprised by the fact that the Internet had a Chinese throne going to a buyer in Spain from an auction in Oakland, California, he had no idea what role the Internet would play on the final lot of the two day sale – talk about a grand finale!
It’s an almost serendipitous story about an unassuming 19th century cane brought into Clars by a consignor hoping they would take it on consignment for their September sale. The consignor, a local Bay Area gentlemen who had fallen on hard financial times, hoped that the cane might bring him enough to temporarily stave off his creditors and pay his rent for the upcoming month. Martin and his staff took the cane on consignment, estimating it to bring $500 to $1,000. The gentleman consigned the cane anticipating a few hundred dollars in his pocket after the sale. No one anticipated the events that were about to unfold.
As a late coming addition to the sale, the cane was literally the last lot of the day. The cane, listed at lot #6834, a gold quartz and gold knobbed ebony walking cane, date 1871, had been posted on their Website as their full catalog always is. No advance print or media advertising had been done for the cane and its true value was yet to be discovered.
Through the world of the “Internet Super Highway,” word began to spread to specialty cane collectors who routinely do their research, that an extremely rare, historic cane, was about to come on the block at Clars Auction Gallery on September 10th, 2006. The staff at Clars began to suspect that they had something a bit more important than they had anticipated, when, by Saturday, the day prior to the sale, absentee bids were arriving and phone bidders were registering including one from England.
Martin, who was now tiring after almost two solid days on the podium calling bids on over 2,000 lots, prepared to call the final lot of the Gallery sale for the day. With several bids already in at $3,000, he opened the bidding there and a frenzy of bidding from the floor, Internet and phones began. Calling the increments as fast as he could to keep up with the intense bidding, a floor bidder dropped out at $12,000. It then became a battle to the end of two phone bidders, one on the East Coast and one in the West. Up and up it went, the crowd and staff watched in awe. The consignor, who was in the gallery, stood speechless. The battle between East and West ended when the West dropped out and Martin dropped the hammer at an astounding $49,725! – a new world record was set and the consignor’s life was about to change. Yes, in fact, he could pay rent for October!
What was it about his cane? In the world of walking sticks, gold quartz canes are among the rarest of the rare. Until this cane came on the block, there were only 12 known to exist in the world, this was a newly discovered 13th. Gold quartz canes, exclusive to San Francisco and the Gold Rush of 1849 – 1900, were only produced by a select group of San Francisco jewelers during this period. This cane was produced from an impressive gold quartz nugget brought to San Francisco by a gold miner who had it made as a special presentation walking stick. Dated 1871 and inscribed, this cane is not only one of 13 known to still exist but carries with it the historical significance of the Gold Rush. Gold quartz canes are extremely fragile due to the delicate composition of the quartz and few have survived the years.
The final hammer price of $49,725 did indeed set a world record. The previous high price for a gold quartz cane sold at auction was just last year, when Tradewinds Antiques and Auctions dropped the hammer at $10,604. Clars surpassed that nearly five times. Redge Martin, President of Clars Auction Gallery, commented that this was one of those “truly warm human interest stories which makes it so gratifying to be part of this business.” Auction houses don’t normally get the opportunity to help change lives, but in this case, they certainly did.
As for the winning bidder in the East? He is just happy to have the cane noting that “there are only a few of us crazy enough to spend this kind of money but I wanted it and now I have it.” When told that his determination to own this rare cane changed someone’s life forever, he said that makes it even more worthwhile.