Thursday, May 26, 2011

Auction Adventures with Vincent Price

The Vincentennial – the 100th birthday celebration of the life of actor Vincent Price – is going on in St. Louis through May 28th. In addition to screenings of some of the actor's major works, the celebration included appearances by Price's daughter Victoria and Roger Corman, whose famous Poe adaptations featured Price in starring roles. Alas, no mention is made of Price's role as a true "celebrity chef" who toured the world with his wife Mary in search of great food and drink. The article that follows originally appeared in the pages of The Hungover Gourmet: The Journal of Food, Drink, Travel and Fun.

Regular readers of THG are well aware that my interests are pretty far flung. Besides eating, cooking, drinking, traveling, self-publishing, writing and having fun I have nearly-lifelong penchants for both movies (my first zine was the drive-in movie newsletter Exploitation Retrospect) and music (years spent as a college radio DJ and record collector will do that).

What many folks don't know about me is that I'm also a collectibles nut. Though the job of cleaning out the house my parents lived in for four decades cured me of some of my hoarding tendencies, you can't cure it all in the span of a couple weeks.

My interest in collecting started out innocently enough with things like the Hardy Boys books when I was an adolescent. Atari 2600 video games came after that. When my parents decided to have a garage sale in the early 90s I thought little of it. Until I saw that they were essentially giving away large chunks of my childhood for what I thought to be insanely low prices.

I was incredulous that you could write "50 cents" on a vintage James Bond Board Game in permanent black marker (oh Dad...) but happily filled my car with games and toys my parents were delighted to see me haul off.

Since these were the days before eBay, I found myself selling and trading the items over now-ancient bulletin boards and at toy shows set up in Holiday Inns. Success had me hooked. Sales meant money and money meant replenishing inventory, so I would spend my weekends hitting garage and yard sales, flea markets, and thrift stores.

But there was always one thing that spooked me and that was (cue dramatic music) The Auction. Dun-dun-dun-duh!

I'd seen enough bad 60s sitcoms to convince me that an auction was no place for the likes of me. An auction was where high society gathered to bid on paintings by the masters, fragile statues and furniture sat upon by the people who shaped our nation's history.

And, as any sitcom will tell you, you can't attend an auction without accidentally bidding on something because your ear itches or you have a hair in your eye. Though I'm not a twitchy individual by nature an auction just didn't seem like a good idea.

Fast forward a dozen years and you can barely keep me away from an auction. I'm not sure when the transformation occurred, but I'm pretty sure my wife had something to do with it. I'd been to an auction or two before we started dating, but they became a fun way to spend a weekend morning and I got hooked. Especially on box lots. I loves me some box lots.

So, when the postcard arrived from one of the area auction companies I frequently patronize, I gave it my usual cursory glance before sticking it up on the fridge. And then it jumped out at me... TREASURY OF GREAT RECIPES cookbook signed by Vincent Price.

For those who only know Price from his roles in William Castle flicks, Roger Corman Poe films or as the ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES, Price was actually a renowned chef who traveled the world with Mary, his wife, eating at some of the most famous and legendary restaurants of the day.

TREASURY OF GREAT RECIPES: Famous Specialties of the World's Foremost Restaurants Adapted for the American Kitchen was the result of some of those trips. In its pages, the Prices gathered menus and recipes from a far-flung assortment of eateries in France, Italy, Holland, Scandinavia, England, Spain, Mexico and here in the USA. Trust me, this is not some moronic celebrity cookbook featuring cocktail franks and BBQ dunking sauce. (Not that I have anything against that.) It's just that when you use phrases like "celebrity chef" Vincent Price literally wrote the book.

And I wanted that book.

I'd attended an auction from the same company a week before and had come away grossly disappointed. An advertised Batman bank from 1966 (oh yeah, I currently collect vintage Batman memorabilia) was listed but never materialized and I assumed the fragile statue of The Caped Crusader had been either lost or broken.

Though bidding wasn't slated to begin until 5:00 P.M. I arrived an hour early to scope out the goods and size up the competition. Oh yeah, and eavesdrop on the chatter, which is often the most fun to be had at these things.

It was many of the same faces as the previous week but the nice weather had brought some new folks thanks to the lure of items being auctioned both inside (collectibles and furniture) and out (tools and miscellaneous). Walking around before the auction starts is often the best part since you get to hear the bitching and moaning about how there's nothing good... yet these are the same people I see week in and week out at this auction house and others. There must be some reason they attend.

While searching for the Vincent Price cookbook I overhear that some of the items, including the cookbook, are left over from an estate sale held about a year ago. The source of the item is supposedly Hans Kramm, a chef who served as a cook for Adolph Hitler and various Nazi higher-ups before he emigrated to Maryland and opened a restaurant.

Who knows how much of the stuff you overhear at a sale is on the up and up and how much is utter bullshit, but it's an interesting story nonetheless. While searching for – and finding – the book I also locate a few other lots both outside and inside that I want. Most are items targeted for resale on eBay, but last week's missing 1966 Batman bank has surfaced! It's in a box with a bunch of sellable items and I get the whole lot for my maximum bid of $15. (Note... I've never been able to part with the Batman bank, even during the current spike in popularity due to THE DARK KNIGHT. In fact, it's sitting on my desk right now.)

The bidding outside is focused on tools, so it'll be a while before they get to the bag of games and puzzles that has caught my attention. Inside I snag another box of toys – including a Kellogg's 1992 Dream Team in-store premium – for a whopping $5.

The rest of the night is spent darting from the outside of the hall to the inside, trying to calculate which will go up first – the cookbook or the bag of games and puzzles. The sun goes down and a chill sets in as they finally hit the row with the bag of games. Desperate to move along they combine it with another box of stuff – including some creepy tobaccoiana – and I walk away with everything for less than $10. (The item I thought would bring the best dough is an Avalon Hill Gettysburg Board Game which I sell on eBay for about $25.)

Outside purchase accomplished I move inside and wait and wait and wait for the cookbook. For all I know it's going to go for way more money than I can/want to pay, but something tells me this crowd couldn't care less about The Host of Haunted Hill. As they start picking items off the furniture near the book I go into my usual auction mode. In other words, my palms start to sweat and my heart begins racing like I've just spent the last 30 minutes on a treadmill.

A poker face I am not.

$40 is about my limit and I'm praying that I won't get caught up in some kind of bidding frenzy. Last time I did that it cost me $125.

In the end Vincent Price is mine, mine, all mine for $20. Almost had it for $10 but somebody jumped in at the last minute. Who cares? I love the inscription as well as the backstory (true or not) and it makes an amazing addition to my bookcase-straining cookbook collection!


XichthusX said...

I love that you do auctions like myself. Great minds brother!! I'm always about box lots....You never know! I need to look at some of the listings right now!! Great write-up!

Monkey Nutz said...

Post a picture? I just lost a bid war for Mary's diamond stud earrings Vincent gifted to her in the 60's. Talk about caught up, I was in for $2030 when they out bid me at 5 seconds to go. (And they came with the apology card that came with the gift) Message me!