House Of Representatives Bookcase Bidding Update

by John Werry on April 21, 2009


“John, get over it. Bidding issues happen all the time.  Join the club.”

I know that’s probably what you’re all thinking and I agree.  I’ve been the under-bidder many times before and it’s never a happy feeling.  Not succeeding this time was a little different.

No one had seen a House of Representatives bookcase before (probably ca. 1857 and made by Bembe & Kimbel for the House).  Dealers who have seen it all have told me that it was rare.  My disappointment is a notch higher due to the fact that we may never see one again.  Even Herter Brothers beds, though infinitely more valuable, come up more often than these (or should I use the singular form, “this”).

It’s kind of a klunky, simple bookcase – but, it may be the only one left that we know of.

In this case, it was not a system glitch or auction house glitch or anything insidious at all – as anyone without raised blood pressure would have guessed.  Although it appears that my $1,625 bid should have won over a winning $1,600 bid, the fact is my bid was an invalid one (although accepted by the system) – it did not conform to the bid increments that the auction house used

Thanks to Vernon Powell, Jr. of Harlowe-Powell we have the following explanation of how the above could occur:

In the bidding process on our dedicated online bid computer screen, your last bid was $1500, then an in-house absentee bidder bid $1600. Our person executing the internet bids entered the $1600 floor bid and Artfact asked for the next incremental bid amount of $1700. Since you left $1625, your bid was not acknowledged. If you had bid $1698, your bid would not have been acknowledged. It had to be in $100 increments at this level.

I get it.  Yes, it is my fault for not double-checking the bid increment policies, but being a computer software professional for the past 20 years and having bid online hundreds of times, I’m used to bidding systems enforcing bid increments and not accepting invalid increments.

In this case, it is not an in-house system that is accepting their bids, it is ArtFact Live.  Apparently, there isn’t a way for ArtFact live to be configured to the auction house’s preferred bid increment schedule.  ArtFact will accept anything you put in there in between increments.

In the end, I am aware that I would have never won anyway, even if my higher $1,625 bed was utilized since the winning bidder had left a max bid significantly above mine.

Again, from Vernon:

I think the revealing of the fact that a $2000 absentee bid had been left on the item, yet is sold for only $1600, is testimony that Harlowe-Powell Auction did what we say we do when it comes to executing absentee bids. We bid for the absentee bidder as though the absentee bidder were present. Since we had an absentee bid of $2000, if the internet had acknowledged your $1625 bid, then the in-house absentee bidder would have bid $1700, and both Harlowe-Powell and the consignor would have made more money.

Thanks go out to Vernon at Harlowe-Powell for the detailed explanation.  It makes me feel better about being the under-bidder on this rare bookcase.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1881victorian April 21, 2009 at 3:31 pm

Sorry to hear that you caught my bookcase-under-bidder disease. I’m still at 4 in a row…actively looking for #5. On the up-side, this means that people like you & me set the market value for bookcases, whereas the winning bidders are overpaying by one bid increment . – Jason


woodwright April 22, 2009 at 1:14 am

Not to rub salt in the open wound, but there’s a decent chance that the bidder that beat you may have learned of the bookcase here in the RV forum – that’s where I first saw mention of it.


RareVictorian April 22, 2009 at 9:04 am

1881, yes, I’ve joined the bookcase underbidder club. I guess it means I need to put in a ridiculous max bid next time to join the other club.

woodwright, not sure. I am aware of who the winning bidder is, and let’s just say that I am pleased, but not sure if “they” frequent the forum.


Farar Elliott April 22, 2009 at 2:03 pm

In the matter of the House-related bookcase, perhaps I can shed a little light on the bookcase itself and its ultimate disposition. The bookcase was purchased at this weekend’s auction for accession into the U.S. House of Representatives Collection of Art and Artifacts. I hope that the fact that it will be in a public collection offers some solace to the underbidders.
I can also provide some information on the bookcase itself. Our curatorial staff are of the opinion that the piece was not made in 1857. In fact, we believe that at some point after 1873, when the chairs were no longer being used in the House Chamber, the top rail of a chair was removed and used in the making of the bookcase. It appears that the rail was split lengthwise, and one half was used for the topmost decoration on the piece, while the other half was turned back-to-front and used as the lower decoration.
As many scholars are aware, the 1857 Walter chairs and desks in the House were dispersed in 1873, some purchased by the Members who had used them and some sold to the public. They are found in archives and museums around the country, as well as in the House Collection.

Farar Elliott
Office of History and Preservation
U.S. House of Representatives


RareVictorian April 22, 2009 at 2:27 pm

Farar, thank you so much for filling us in! Yes, I am glad to hear where the bookcase will be going.

Being made after 1873 (of chair pieces, no less) makes sense since I saw no mention of bookcase orders in any of the documentation.

I wonder if there are more of these cobbled-together bookcases out there. One might assume that they might not go through the trouble to assemble only one.

Thanks again.


1881victorian April 22, 2009 at 3:44 pm

John — maybe you could swing an interview with Farar. What other cool toys might the Office of History & Preservation have? How does one get into that line of work? Fascinating stuff.
– Jason


RareVictorian April 22, 2009 at 3:56 pm

Not a bad idea. I’ll see if Farar would be up to it. Could always do it over the phone, but being there in person would allow some imagery and not just voice.


1881victorian April 22, 2009 at 4:51 pm

…and, not to pry, but how did Farar’s group hear about the bookcase being at auction? – Jason


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