Going once, going twice …
During the American Civil War, goods seized by armies were sold at auction by the Colonel of the division. To this very day, auctioneers in the states carry the unofficial title of “colonel,” a name auctioneer Ken Rivenburg has grown to appreciate. A graduate of the World Wide College of Auctioneering, the hard-working Rivenburg is part showman, part historian. Born and raised in Brooklyn, Pa., Rivenburg currently resides in Factoryville with his wife and three children. He is the auctioneer, once again, for this year’s Holiday Art Auction set for Saturday, Nov. 17, at 6 p.m at The AfA Gallery in Scranton. He’s always on the lookout for a new treasure as well as the highest bidder. Meet Ken Rivenburg…
Tell us a little bit about what you do.
I go on house calls and meet with people and go through what they want to sell; mainly estates. I go through the whole house and give them an idea what things are worth. I take the items and sell them on consignment. I take pictures, list, keyword everything on the internet. We run a large antique auction monthly plus modern furniture and collectables, including automobiles. We also do a lot of real estate auctions and sales, commercial liquidations like big trucks and equipment. We do a lot of appraisal work every day. I visit about 100 houses a month.
How and when did you become interested in auctioneering?
Two days out of high school. I went to auctioneer school and had a two year apprenticeship and started the business in 1990. Before that, my parents took me to three auctions a week and we did an antique show every weekend since the day I was born. I had a good grasp on it and it is fun. I love it. My mom and dad loved auctions. They knew a lot about antiques and that was before the internet.
What made you want to take it to the next level?
I knew I had the knowledge and I saw all the money the auctioneer was making, so it was a no-brainer. We owned the largest auction gallery in NEPA for twenty years. My wife, who is a realtor, put it up for lease to the natural gas company. They made us a humongous cash offer, so we sold it. Now we run auctions at St. Mary’s Center. They have at least 8,000 square feet and we have a sale once a month. Everything sells to the highest bidder; very few things are reserved.
How has technology helped you in the business?
We upload to the website daily. Besides the brute force and using the trucks, we use the internet and cameras. It really has made my life great. It’s tons of work, but great.
How do you physically prepare for an auction?
Taking pictures of all the items. Loading whoever’s merchandise it is and putting it into our trailers. We have 2900 square foot facility in our house where we prepare the items. Then we bring everything down, set it all up in two days and sell it all in one night and by 11 a.m. the next morning, it’s all out of St. Mary’s. There are about 500 to 600 lots a sale: one lot could be this whole table or all of the chairs or one gold watch or one diamond ring or one baseball card or clock.
How do you mentally prepare for the show?
It is a show. You’re right. You’re naturally pumped (he demonstrates some fast talk auctioneering, 25, 35, 45, 55…).
You also buy antiques and collectibles. Is there anything out there that has you searching high and low?
Antique baseball cards are my favorite. One of my first auctions, I sold my whole collection of baseball cards and bought a cube van. They’re big money. We send them out and get them graded. There are cards out there that can bring in tens of thousands. I love antique military items from the Civil War or World War II. The list goes on and on. Of course, I really like mining and railroad Items. I received a call from Seton Catholic High School for an appraisal. They said, “We have a lot of these green dishes and we have lot of this China with LVRAA on it. We are going to have a yard sale.” I said, “Stop the yard sale!” I went down and the dishes did about $43,000. They were Lehigh Valley Railroad, very rare and all the green dishes were jadeite by Fire King which Martha Stewart was big into at the time.
Are there any items you won’t touch? Is anything off limits?
I don’t really like to sell caskets. I’m not really into that.
What is an item you saw that blew you away at an appraisal or auction?
I did have Aristotle Onassis’s teeth and dental records at one time. They were cool. I advertised them all over the country and nobody was really interested in them. I think they brought in about $900.
Talk about the AfA auction.
It’s a great auction. All of the people that run and participate in it are just fun loving people. They raise a lot of money. There are so many local artists with beautiful work there; between the marble sculptures, the paintings and the woodworking. We joke and laugh. People really get into it. I’ve been doing the auction for 12 years. I come back because I like the people I work with. It’s just really a great time and I invite anybody to come if they like to have fun. They’ll love the sale. It highlights the local riches.
You enjoy everything local.
I have a room full of local history from civil war to American Indian to early books on the people that founded the area. That’s my thing. That is what I collect. My dad was 52 when I was born. I was raised by an older mentality. It’s a massive collection that probably no one else is interested in. (Laughs).
What does an auctioneer do on his spare time?
I sing and I dance. I’m not kidding. I do a lot of singing and dancing.
What profession can you see yourself involved in if you weren’t an auctioneer?
I think maybe an attorney. I like to help people and get them through hard times. I deal with a lot of estates, so I would probably be an estate attorney…
…That sings and dances.
That sings and dances. Isn’t that crazy?
— tom graham
The Holiday Art Auction at The AfA Gallery, 514 Lackawanna Avenue, Scranton, takes place Saturday, November 17, at 6 p.m. A silent auction with 12 pieces will be held on the first floor. The live auction with 60 pieces will be held upstairs at AfA in our new spacious and renovated second floor gallery. This event is the primary fund raiser for AfA. Tickets are $25 and include hors d’oeuvres, desserts, champagne, open bar and live music. For more information or to RSVP, call 969-1040. For upcoming auctions and appraisal services, visit www.rivenburgsauction.com.