George Edwards Dodo Ordeal


Edwards, George (Br. 1694-1773). The Dodo. Photographic reproduction of the hand-colored engraving. 1757. [C. 1758-1764]. Plate #294 at lower edge of image. From Edwards’ “Gleanings of Natural History,” first published [Lon: 1758-1764]. Anker, 126, p119.

This is an auction story about the one that got away. The moral of the story I will tell you right away: If you love something coming up for auction, buy it because you can always sell it later! As I sit here staring at my photographic reproduction of a George Edwards engraving of a Dodo bird it reminds me of a personal failure: that I didn’t buy the actual engraving which was at my finger tips. All I needed to do was raise my paddle, one, maybe two more times and I could have owned this fine piece of history that had survived over 250 years and I hoped was destined for my wall. This was not to be. I had set my margin at $350.00, believing this was an adequate, if not aggressive bid as I had sold several Edwards prints at auction for much less. Of course, at $350 it would still have been quite the bargain as a dealer would have charged me substantially more for the antique engraving. As I reached my margin, I found myself to be the under-bidder as it hammered at $400. Ouch!

Now, I worked for the auction house selling the piece, in the prints department, so to add injury to insult, I had to pack and ship the print to the successful bidder. I did so as I had hundreds of times for other bidders, only with disappointing in myself. I sent it via FedEx, whom I use and still recommend as the greatest shipper in the world, ever. I have shipped thousands of packages with FedEx and only once had they ever damaged one; this was that one. When it arrived at the buyers home, she refused the package. When it was returned to the auction house, I found out why. It appeared as though a truck rolled over the package as the tube was mangled in the center. Not only had the bidder refused the package, she refused to pay under any condition as she thought there was no way the print could have survived. Upon inspection, it was pretty wrinkled but with no hard creases. This dodo refused to go the way of his brethren!

Having dabbled in print restoration, I knew I could make it as good as new. I brought the dodo home and ironed it with a warm iron between two pieces of blotter paper until no wrinkles were evident. As I had the dodo at home for this project I began thinking of places I would put it on the wall and found the perfect place. These second chances just never come up in this business and I had a second chance!  However, I had to take the print back to the gallery and re-offer it at auction, per the consignor’s request. Fair enough I thought and I did just that. Three months later I had set my margin at $450 only to hit my margin and watch it soar, hammering at $650! Rarely does an item re-offered exceed it’s original hammer price by such a large margin. I lost it again! Losing it a second time hurt a little less as it was well above my margin, but it still hurt.

Here I am today, looking at my photographic reproduction of the dodo. It is still a conversation piece, but it’s an entirely different conversation that begins with “this is a photograph of…” I suppose it is still a good story, but personally not as exciting as the curiosity of having the real thing to show off.

I reiterate, if you really want it, buy it! You can always sell it later. If you have an interesting story about buying at auction, post it in the comments below.

About Berkeley Brown
Anson Brown, co-founder and principal of Auction Exclusive, is an expert in rare books, prints, antique maps, historical manuscripts and autographs. He is also well versed in a variety of fine and decorative arts and antiques and has 7 years experience in the auction industry. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from George Mason University and and Master of Business Administration from the University of Maryland.

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