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Posted by Dave Bull on March 24, 2013 [Permalink]

[Note: this is a story about an internet auction. For obvious reasons, I won't post it while the auction is in progress, so I am going to write it (bit by bit) and hold it back until the smoke has cleared. By the time you read this, it will all be over ...]

[Evening of the 19th]

I don't spend much time on internet auction sites these days; we don't have a whole lot of free money, nor is there much time for it. I suppose that I miss some treasures now and then because of my inattention, but that can't be helped.

But I'm not oblivious to auctions, and have a few alerts rigged up that let me know whenever some particular items come available. I'm not going to share all these, but it's not giving anything away to mention that we are of course always on the lookout for tools.

One of these alerts 'rang' this evening. Somebody here in Japan has come across a couple of boxes of old woodblocks, and put them up for auction. When I took a look to see what there was to see, I was presented with this image:

Seems like a box of woodblocks used for printing senshafuda and perhaps also for some kinds of wrapping paper. Interesting, but nothing to jump up and down about.

But there is a second image on the page, and this one is different:


This ... is the real McCoy. After years of checking auction alerts for tools, only to be presented every time with images of toy barens for school students, finally we have the real thing.

This person has come across a couple of boxes of 'stuff' from a professional printer's workshop. I can see four 'hon' (real) barens, a collection of parts from partially finished barens, a couple of brushes, some packages of pigments, and some tools for baren making.

I want this stuff. Badly.

Now I'm not being greedy when I say this. We have a huge problem with barens here these days - with three (sometimes four) people working here at any one time, we are always fighting each other for tools. Remember, none of these apprentices has yet obtained their own tools - all we have here are my own set.

Why don't we just buy some more barens? Well, take a look at the price list over on baren maker Goto-san's website. Even the least expensive model is over $800, and we need many barens of different strengths. To outfit all our workers with new barens would need an investment of three or four thousand dollars per person. And over and above the money question is the little 'detail' that Goto-san is around a year back-logged in orders. To order one from him means a year-long wait. Even if we won some kind of lottery and ordered a dozen from him, it would be literally years before he could deliver.

So we need these four barens. I can't tell from the photo which particular strength they are, but that doesn't matter. There will be a mix, I'm sure.

So to start, I instantly put in a low 'place-holder' bid, just to ensure that the auction couldn't be pulled down, and then set myself a number of alerts and reminders so that I would not forget when the auction approaches the close (as if!). The person has set it for a six day term, and it is going to be a very long six days, I can tell you!

[Morning of the 20th]

Two more people found it early this morning, and placed bids. I have no idea who they are, as Yahoo Auctions (partially) obfuscates IDs. If they are 'amateurs' then I am not worried, because come closing time, I am prepared to bid pretty fiercely on this one, and I think I can see them off easily.

My big concern is that some of the other people in our business might see it. I am specifically thinking of Goto-san the baren maker, Sato-san over at the Takumi workshop, or young Ueda-san, my friend the print and book dealer (who is also a printer). These people would see this auction in the same light as I do ... damn the torpedoes - full speed ahead!

[Evening of the 21st]

One more has jumped in. The price has risen only slightly, to just over 6,000 yen, but that doesn't really tell us anything yet. I myself only bid a few thousand at first.

[Evening of the 24th]

24 hours to go. It has been totally quiet; no sign of any new bidders. This tells me nothing though; if I myself were coming across it at this point, I would lay low too.

For those of you who have experience of eBay, these Yahoo Auctions have a very major difference. There is no sniping. You can try sniping, if you like, but the Yahoo system is programmed so that as the auction draws near to the closing time, any new bid will extend the closing time by five minutes. Yahoo then sends emails to all the participants, letting them know they still have a chance. The hammer only falls after five minutes of inactivity.

It's wonderful for sellers of course, but very frustrating for bidders. If more than one person is bidding, the value will thus usually rise to something approximating a natural market value. There are few true bargains on Yahoo Auctions, barring the very rare cases when nobody else has seen the item, and you are alone.

That's not the case here, and all I can hope at this point is that the other participants are casual amateur printmakers, who will scare easily. From where I sit, that box is worth $3,000 (at the very least, based on what I can see in the photo), and I am prepared to bid a pretty good chunk of that.

[Morning of the final day ...]

Well, here we go ... no action now for a few days. Two of our printers will be here today, and it will be difficult to stop myself from telling them about this. But there is no way that I am going to leak - especially not to Ayumi-san, who will be here printing all day. She is working with baren-maker Goto-san on learning how to make barens, so for her this box would be a stupendous treasure. I of course want her to share the excitement, but I don't want to put her in the situation of having to keep it secret from her teacher, so she'll just have to stay in the dark for a bit longer. (Unless of course, she and Goto-san already know about it, and are desperately hoping that I don't!)

If I do win it, I'll have a bit of fun after the boxes get here. I'll set up the webcam so that it points to her desk, set it to 'record' mode, and then casually ask her to check and see what's in that box of 'stuff' that was just delivered. The results should be fun ...

[Update, still morning]

A new face, and a new high bidder. No idea who it might be. One promising point is that their auction history (shown in count only), is pretty small, which would seem to indicate not much experience at this.

[Couple of hours to go]

Another new name, jumping in to nudge the price up a bit. So it seems that there will be at least a few of us circling this one ...

[One hour to go]

I've restarted my browser, and cleared the desktop of anything that might interfere. (Safari does lock up on me occasionally, usually after playing Flash videos, so I'll just sit quietly and read my newspaper for the next little while ...) I've also confirmed my login at Yahoo (I changed my password a while back, and that's a recipe for disaster ... being unable to remember the new one with the clock ticking down the final seconds ...)

[30 minutes ...]

All quiet. No change. I dropped an email to Ueda-san, to confirm that I am 'here' and ready to bid. When we talked the other day, he had expressed concern that if I forgot or something, all would be lost, so we arranged that he would be ready to jump in if I didn't appear ...

[15 minutes, and counting ...]

I've opened the little window with the countdown clock that Yahoo provides for each auction. Given the Yahoo system - where the clock is extended after each winning bid - there really isn't much advantage to waiting until near the end before entering my bid, but I think that waiting until the latest possible time that doesn't trigger an extension (5 minutes and xx seconds before the end) might minimize the chances of casual bidders coming back against me.

[10 minutes...]

Two of then have started to slug it out, and up we go ... pausing at 51,100 yen ...

[5 minutes +]

In I go. My bid of 1xx,000 yen puts me on top at 52,100 ... but I am sure one of these guys will now start chasing me.

58,100 ... and this pushed it out another five minutes. But as he only nudged it a few thousand yen, this could take a while. This is the new bidder who joined the party a couple of hours ago.

I'm so glad about the timing of this auction - that because of the Kickstarter revenue, I'm sitting here in a fairly strong position, without panicking that I am emptying my bank account.

66,100 ...

72,100 ...

76,100 ... and pushing it out another five minutes ... His increments are getting smaller.

Oops, spoke too soon! He has really doubled down and pushed in one jump up to 100,100 ...

124,500 ... he's getting too close; time to up my own bid in the background, before he hits me (unfortunately extending the time again ...)

131,500 ... this guy won't give up!

145,500 ...

166,000 ... and he's topped me. Who the hell can this be? Have to think about this for a minute ...

OK, in goes 2xx,xxx ... putting it at 187,500 But I can't do that again ...

189,500 ... he hit by just a small increment, but it pushed out another five minutes, giving him time to think ...

195,500 ...

199,500 ... small increments again. Is he running out of steam? Is the 200,000 level a barrier he can't cross?

Silence ... now inside the final 60 seconds ...


Done. The hammer falls, at 199,500 yen (around $2100 as of today's exchange rate).

That's a whole lot more than I would have liked to have paid, but I guess it can't be helped. Looking through the bid history now, I see that I would have got this stuff for 51,100 if that last guy hadn't joined in. I wonder if I'll ever find out who it was?

All that's left now is to do the paperwork and arrange for the shipping. I'll post a new entry once the box arrives and we can see what's really hiding in there!




Added by: Annie B on March 25, 2013, 10:53 pm

Whoa, that was a pretty exciting day! Can't wait to see what you bought!

Added by: Uncle Vinny on March 26, 2013, 1:31 am

Very fun! I used to have a lot of fun with eBay back in the old days, but I haven't had the itch for quite a while. This article might get me back into it. Now I just have to think of something to shop for...

In any event, I'm looking forward to hearing about the items when they arrive.

Added by: Franz Rogar on March 26, 2013, 5:25 am

It's been a truly exciting reading. Glad you got it (so now we can see what's in there ;-) )

It's a pity you got overpriced but I hope you might find another treasures buried down there (ie. another baren at the bottom of the box or anything else).

Added by: Anita on March 26, 2013, 5:33 am

Exciting story and congratulations! I look forward to this video. I'm hoping the seller might also have more of "that old stuff" (perhaps misidentified or overlooked for auction purposes) just waiting for Mokuhankan to rescue from the trash!

Added by: Dave on March 26, 2013, 8:03 pm

the seller might also have more of "that old stuff"

After receiving the seller's information and making the bank transfer this morning, I called them up, hoping to learn a couple of things: did they have any more tools (perhaps brushes?), and whose workshop these had come from.

They were totally uncooperative, would answer nothing, and wouldn't engage in any kind of conversation. I got the impression they were thinking I was complaining or something. Looking at their past auction history, it's nothing at all to do with printmaking, but a random mix of antiques and miscellania. So all I can assume is that they came across these boxes of 'junk' somewhere, and just put them up for auction to see what would happen.

They got very very lucky ...

Added by: Dave on March 27, 2013, 3:41 pm

Quick update: package received. I'll try to get a post put together to show what we found, but it might not be tonight ... we're all too busy singing and dancing ... Merry Christmas, everybody! :-)

Added by: Marc Kahn on March 27, 2013, 7:23 pm

On the one hand:

They got very very lucky ...

While, on the other hand:

... we're all too busy singing and dancing ...

Sounds like a Win-Win to me.


Added by: Jacques on March 27, 2013, 9:32 pm

Hey, this sounds like you got what you bargained for, and even more...


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