We looked ahead to the long range weather forecast, and sighed to see that the auction was going to be held on the only sunny day in the foreseeable future.
We had so many chores that needed doing, all chores that could only be done on a rain-free day when the soaked ground had dried up a bit.
But even though the auction was going to be on the only sunny day in sight, we agreed to go. I knew that I should have weeded the garden. And both the pigeon and chicken coops needed cleaning and fresh straw, but I have had this auction date marked on my calendar for weeks.
I did feel just a bit guilty as we woke up in the wee hours, to drive east through the mountains so we could arrive in the small town in time for me to peruse the lots and decide on what to bid. Yes … guilty, but excited.
Greg smiled at the thought of the long road ahead and a hot cup of coffee as we started off, heading east, across the river, and up into the hills. We arrived four hours later and it was all I could do not to run across the parking lot and into the hall to sign up for my bidder’s number.
As I walked past the parked cars, I noticed that there were license plates from quite a few different states. It was all I could do to wait patiently for Greg to walk in through the doors beside me.
As Greg found a seat in the back of the room, I got my number and went up to the table at the front. No more than 10 older fellows were bent down over neatly laid out plastic baggies, each containing anywhere from one to 50 marbles. Occasionally, one of the men would pick up a bag and turn it over slowly in his hands, peering as he shone a small flashlight across the glass within.
I carefully tucked my bidder’s card into the back pocket of my jeans, number 23, and I, too, bent down to peruse the different lots. It felt good, even lucky, to be number 23, but I reasoned that I was not here to take home marbles, I was here mostly to learn from these learned fellows. I had a strict budget, but I assuredly knew that the greatest thing I could take away from this auction was knowledge.
So, I listened to the men as they passed the lot-numbered bags from one to the other and peered deeply at the contents. Akro Agates, Peltiers, Master Marbles, Champions, Christensens, Alley Agates, and more. I took notes, and not really knowing the values, I decided how high I would bid on those that I thought the prettiest, green, blue, and amber slags, helmets, and a large modern swirl.
There were 84 lots in all, some with several individually valuable marbles, that were broken down into bids for successive choice. Once the auctioneer started calling off the bids, I was surprised to see that number 23 was the last number, and it dawned on me that Greg was not the only supportive spouse in the room.
When the auctioneer held up the fourth lot, eight beautiful slag marbles, dating to the 1930s, he asked for $40. The room was silent. He dropped to 30, and silence still reigned. Then he called for 20, 15, 10, and finally five. I held my hand high from the back of the room.
“Do I hear seven fifty, seven fifty, seven fifty?” as his eyes scanned the room. I could not believe the silence, and then finally he called, “Sold to the lady with the big smile in the back of the room”, and that was all it took. I was off and bidding.
I began to talk with the other collectors as I gathered up my five- and 10-dollar lots, and yes, some of the marbles did sell for well over $100, and I learned. One fellow had only been collecting for 10 years, but most had been in love with the small glass spheres for well over 30 or even 40 years. I felt a wonderful sense of camaraderie as I stuffed my pockets with the little glass orbs. I saw that my fellow collectors had come prepared and had various sizes of small plastic baggies into which they carefully placed their prizes.
On a break, I met a lady who had written a book on collecting marbles back in the 1990s. She showed me photos of her collection, covering a whole wall of her home, and gave me an autographed copy of her book.
I talked to the auctioneer, who was glad to see a new face in the familiar marble collecting crowd. I was amazed that I felt so instantly at home, and whenever I glanced to the back of the room I saw Greg, watching with a smile.
The drive home passed in an instant as I played with my new treasures. I could not wait to get back to the creek, and I imagined that I could have stayed awake all night, sorting through them and adding them to my collection, but by the time we got home it almost dark and we needed to do the animal chores, so I tucked the contents of my pockets into my dresser drawer.
I know that there will be time to play, on perhaps another rainy day. And, yes, the forecast calls for more rain.
Christine Tailer, a Cincinnati transplant, writes on rural living. She “lives off the grid” on a farm south of Georgetown. She may be reached at straightcreekvalleyfarm.com.