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The Auction

by Maggie McAndrews about a year ago in fact or fiction
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Art project

Auction day! I have thumbed through the catalogue so many times. I had identified a couple of lots I planned to bid on. One that took my fancy was a suitcase with stamps and templates, advertised 'as seen'. The case looked good too. I didn't go to the viewing so it will be a surprise.

It's nearly time, setting off early for a good seat. The auction, held locally in the next town. It's a small auction house, regular and intimate, held in an old barn, the auctioneer a wily character always dressed in a waistcoat and a bow tie. Often he has a silk hankie in his pocket too. His business has been there since his forefathers many years ago and it’s ticking along nicely.

Arriving at the sale in ‘little car’ there’s a sense of occasion parking up. Parking next to the Bentley made me smile.

I get my paddle number from the admissions office. I bought a cup of cheap coffee and found my seat. Sitting near the front amidst the furniture of yesterday and the no longer wanted items. There is always a whiff of sadness for all the unwanted items from house clearance signifying a change in circumstance. A death, a move, an end of an era, a relationship or just plain fed up of the clutter.

There’s a buzz starting as the room fills, more and more people sit on the firm, sagging and uncomfortable chairs and sofas.

My lots were 112 and 200 so I would have a long wait for them to come under the hammer so I sip my coffee and wait patiently. Lot after lot sold for varying amounts some for peanuts and others more for eye watering sums. Seeing who’s bought what is great to see. I wonder if the owner of the Bentley put their hands in their pocket yet?

I watched each lot sell then it came to my suitcase, I had a quick look at its contents before I sat down and thought it was a real punt. It was getting nearer and nearer then 111 sold for a measly five pounds. I hoped my lot would be as lucky. Opening bid for a fiver. I waited, and someone else bid, I put my hand up and the bidding war began.

The lot attracted some interest, just me and another bidder. Finally I won! The lot was mine. Very pleased with myself I got a cappuccino and upgraded from the previous cup. Now, the wait between 112 and 200. Soon the same anticipation at 199. Next 200. The bidding began at £1.00. A maiden bid it was mine, no one else wanted the scruffy black book. Not wanting to hang around I paid and left with my goods. The Bentley had gone. I drove home. I couldn’t wait to have a good look at my purchases.

I got the goods out of the car. The suitcase won. It smelt fusty. I put some gloves on to unpack the goods. Each stamp was neatly packed. Some still had ink on them suggesting they had been used and loved. Others were less used, they had an obscure emboss dots and dashes, Morse code maybe or braille?

My maiden bid was a little black book. It was leather bound, looked well thumbed, curled and worn. Inside the paper smelt like the auction room. Inside the pages were addresses from all over the world. This little treasure needed more investigation and a closer look. Having sat for a while with a coffee my thoughts returned to the little black book wondering who owned it and the purpose of all the addresses and numbers. Most were PO Box numbers. To me these numbers piqued an interest as they had a sense of place, postcode and anonymity. Then I thought, you’re reading too much into this.

Back to the case. It was heavy when I lifted it again. I hadn’t noticed how heavy it was before thinking the stamps were all wooden. I found some metal plates that looked more industrial, purposeful than creative. Having got all the blocks out I came across two plates, a £20.00 and a £10.00. Had the case belonged to a forger? I cleaned the plate with white spirit and let it dry. I decided to have a go at printing the notes and they came out well.

I started wondering if I printed enough could I start an art project? What would it look like? It would involve the printed money and the addresses from the little black book.

I pondered this thought for several days, what would be its purpose? The printed money would be worthless as we are using the new plastic money. I would have to investigate the representation and how ethical or even legal it would be?

I googled ‘can you print money?’ I messaged the Bank of England and asked the question. If I was to use the paper money I print and send it to random strangers, how would this be perceived, morally and legally? Their answer was ‘we have come to the assumption that this printing plate is fictional. If this is the case then there is no issue’. My printing press was set up and ready to roll. I printed 1000 in £10.00 and 500 in £20.00. I used cheap printing paper on A4 sheets then planned to guillotine them. I gave them all a serial number, not sure why? I managed to cut the notes evenly and bundled then neatly in tape. The tape asked ‘what would you do with the money? It’s fake’.They looked like money from the bank - they looked impressive.

My thoughts turned to the book and started to look up the PO Box numbers. This proved far more difficult to do. I then came across the Royal Mail service locating functional and defunct numbers. Soon I found people not companies.

I set up my own PO Box to send out the money with a postcard hoping the person receiving the ‘fake money’ would write back letting me know what they would do with their share of £20,000.

I printed the post cards with my new find from the auction house. My first batch went off to PO Box 351 Darlington. The addressee were random and by the end of the week I had sent all to all four corners of the world.

I waited.

Eventually , I got a card back thanking me for my generous fake award and they would use the cash for a Lama to add to their smallholding in North Yorkshire. They had a bit of land, kept goats, chickens and a Llama would be a great addition.

More came with obscure uses for the money. I think my favourite would be to buy a diamond made from a mother’s ashes.

What I realised from my artistic process was that all the answers came from a place of love. A need to look after something alive or dead and then to cherish it.

Otherwise, the auction room made me realise that the total opposite the once cherished things became useless, previously loved and and no longer wanted.

I continued to receive many more updates, some passed the money on with my PO Box number. I begat more and more ‘postcards. My little black book was a boon and £20,000 of fake money shared with many was a great project.

What would I do with the money? I’d use it as wallpaper.

fact or fiction

About the author

Maggie McAndrews

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