Bidders Edge Reprints - I'll Bid on Anything


Don Fluckinger wrote a weekly column on the auction beat - He covered a while ago.  I'm not sure this publication is still in business, but Don's column is gone.  So enjoy these here, where they live on!

Join the Club

Noah Shlaes’ family has a genetic predisposition for buying stuff at auctions, including this classic International Harvester C1000 stepside pick-up truck acquired at a state sale for $150. It had 210,000 miles and an Olds replacement engine at the time of purchase. As a teenager, Noah contributed to its ultimate demise.

The Internet and personal computers are fledgling technologies, still earning their places in our culture. Before you balk at my thesis, consider this: Are people still debating whether or not the automobile or light bulb is ruining our culture? Are scholars researching how the wheel, natural gas heat, or printed books have insidiously broken down our personal relationships? No.

Yet to some people, the Internet is populated at best with misguided technophiles who spend way too much time behind their monitors. At worst, they think there's some social predator or rip-off artist lurking behind every junk-mail message, chat room post, or auction listing. You read it in the letters section of local newspapers, you hear it in the hallowed halls of political debate: We're afraid of the Internet and what it's doing to our kids and us. To those people, I say, wake up and join the auction-junkie crowd.

Once we jump into the auction scene, it usually goes like this: Test it out, win a single item. Cool. Then the item arrives on the doorstep and, my gosh, it's just as promised! There's a nice note, sometimes even handwritten, thanking us for our business. We remember other things we've been looking for in flea markets, used book stores, music shops – wherever we hang out. Things in the attic of our memory – a favorite rock'n'roller from our youth, a board game, a baseball player – come to mind as we search through auction listings. Suddenly, we've bid on 10, 20, 30 cool things. When they’re delivered, we unseal those packages one by one. Before we know better, we're hooked.

The big difference between the mail-order world and its friendly customer-service army is that with auctions, we meet real friends. Sellers, fellow collectors, chat-room buddies. We kibitz about pricing. We ask each other questions that only other enthusiasts of an item can possibly know or care about. Do the globes for the 1940s-era Texaco gas pumps always have a huge seam? Is this Parker Vacumatic pen still worth buying even though the fill mechanism needs repair? Have you ever seen a Kenny Houston autograph since he was inducted into the Hall of Fame where he didn't write "HOF 86" under his name? If the zipper on the Andy Warhol-designed Sticky Fingers Rolling Stones LP cover won't go all the way up, would you bid on it? Don't even start on the ins and outs of purchasing practical noncollectibles – like computers, cars, or airline tickets. It takes professional help to understand what you're buying and what's a fair price.

One of my favorite online buddies is Noah Shlaes. I couldn't tell him from Joe Blow if I hung out in the Chicago suburb where he lives with his family (including a newly acquired Lab pup). I do know that his youngest boy is in Cub Scouts, and that the child will be taking the Hawaiian bus token I sent him to his troop's upcoming "collecting convention."

Like me, Noah will bid on anything. Russian watches. Exonumia (for non-coin-collectors, that's loosely defined as "tokens and other miscellaneous stuff"). Coin-operated machines. Parts for video arcade games. It all adds up to a basement full of stuff his wife probably wishes he'd put right back up for sale online and send away for good.

Get him talking about video games, and you can't stop him. I'll delve further into his arcade-machine worldview and share his tips and tricks in my next column, but here's a sample: "I have a 1982 video game, Vindicators, by Atari, in my basement. In the last move, it got rattled around a bit, and isn't working quite right. It's on my eBay watch list, so I was delighted when a replacement circuit board came up available – I snapped it up for about $20, I think. There are companies that'll swap it out for about $100, but they're playing the percentages, mostly.…" That's Noah. And he'll go on and on, when asked.

From emailing him back and forth and reading the detailed dissertation on Noah’s Web site, I now understand enough about the construction, care, and maintenance of arcade games to know what to buy and how much to pay – if I ever can pull enough cash together to jump into an auction. This guy also sent me the owner's manual for the 20-year-old Honda Passport scooter I purchased online when I realized it wasn't included – and furthermore was unavailable from the manufacturer. This was crucial, as the bike had a nonstandard shift pattern that only a biker with the patience of a safe-cracker could solve without help.

I consider him a good friend, even though we’ve never met in the flesh. Internet nay-sayers would definitely talk about "social disconnects" and such mumbo-jumbo. It's bunk. It's just jealousy – they're incapable of learning their way around the Web well enough to find cool pals like Noah.

"There was a recent Stanford study citing the Internet as a cause of reduced social contact," Noah recently wrote me. "It said, among other things, that people spend less time reading newspapers and watching TV. (I found it amusing that this was seen as a loss to society by Stanford's researchers.) But it ignored things like the fact that you and I met, and that I have about a dozen friends online around the world whom I wouldn't have known without the 'Net. So much for research."


See a good auction item for sale? Have a tip to offer or a funny auction-related story? Know a supercollector of anything and everything -- someone who built at least part of his collection via online auctions? Send a note to our columnist at He just might write about it in this space.

Arcade-Machine Addicts

A month ago, I saw a restored Galaga machine from the early 1980s in perfect shape on eBay. Being of sound mind and of stone-cold-sober disposition, I wanted it. Seeing as the seller took credit cards and would even arrange for the beast to be shipped to my door, bang! I dropped in a bid. I can't honestly tell you how much the bid was, but I can tell you I did it during the first day of a 10-day auction and what I thought was a fair bid was blown away in roughly one hour.

  Wouldn't Galaga look great in your rec room?

Midway's Galaga was an institution when I was of quarters-in-my-pockets age 20 years ago. More of my youth was frittered blasting away at those hostile little space-alien bugs than was spent with the books for chemistry class, that's for sure. The old addiction persists; in the wee hours following a friend's bachelor party the night before his wedding last October, the groom and I happened upon a Galaga machine in our hotel's game room. We furiously pushed $5 in quarters through it before you could say "Game over." We were rusty, but man, what a rush.

Remembering how fun that was, when I saw the machine on eBay, I took the next step down the spiral staircase of addiction and dropped in a bid. The notion of actually owning a machine that has sucked so much money out of me 25 cents at a time was quite alluring. First off it would impress all my buddies; secondly it would stop the financial hemorrhaging. But watching the bids go up and up, I realized I'm not quite <ital>that<ital> addicted. I'm not ready to pay $700-$1,000 for unlimited access to Galaga. It turns out that a lot of bidders grew up when I did, remember this machine, and had the same idea at least have a higher max on their Visas).

Am I nuts for wanting a machine? I'd probably settle for a Tempest or Defender machine as well, as I have equal affinity for them, as well as that Star Wars game that had the awful graphics but the positively awesome action. Enter my auction-junkie friend Noah Shlaes, who seems to know a little bit about everything I'm interested in. He's written the I Want An Arcade Machine FAQ on his Web site. He offers an outline of how to acquire the games and how much work it is for people with varying levels of engineering skill and free-time ambition to fix them up, as well as links to like-minded folk on the Web. As for his own project, Noah's rebuilding his own Vindicators machine, a 1982 Atari classic arcade game.

Across the country--you can see it just by looking at the auction listings--there's a whole culture of arcade-game junkies who have their own game rooms or garage areas devoted to sometimes multiple machines. It seems that only flawed, well-worn, or damaged machines close without bids, and even those will sell to parts scavengers, who on occasion can use them for their own machines. Noah's one of those.

"Most people who know enough already have a cabinet and monitor," says Noah, whose Vindicators machine was completed through online and offline acquisitions. "The closest thing to a kit is when you buy the marquee, controls, and circuit board together." Once you get the parts together, again, go to Noah's FAQ for repair tips as well as lists of Web pages to find more tips on games from Pachinko to pinball to Pac-Man. He explains the ins and outs of circuit board repair and what key acronyms like EPROM and MAME stand for.

I learned enough from his FAQ to know I can't touch that stuff with a 10-foot pole. For the soldering-iron impaired such as me, the only way to go is the enormously expensive route of bid, win, give the credit card number and let the nice people in 18-wheelers cart the machine to your door . . . or nothing at all. It's people like me who drive up the prices.

"It's a nostalgia thing, I figure," says Noah. "Before online auctions, they went for maybe $200-300, because they were hard to shop for, and most people don't have the time or appetite to go looking in arcade graveyards. In general, they're pretty gritty. But bored browsers with extra income are delighted to stumble across some old friend, like an original Dig Dug or Zaxxon. They'll gladly pop down $700-800 for a restored, or 'shopped,' machine. These are similar to prices they'll pay in a billiard supply place. Old-time hobbyists like me hate it--many favorites are now out of reach, and old suppliers have moved to the greener pastures of online auctioneering."

Yet for old-time hobbyists, the online auction scene is good, too. The nice thing about auction sites is that they're free-market-driven: if people want something, sellers will put it up. That means that while johnny-come-latelys like me drive up the prices for whole, running arcade machines, old hands like Noah can find JAMMA harnesses, circuit boards, controllers, and monitors to go with the pieces-parts they already have on hand--and even though these finds might be obscure pieces for obscure games, chances are there will be several sellers competing for Noah¹ dollars each time, so he might be able to get a good deal despite the shipping prices he wouldn¹t have to pay going to "old suppliers."

Also, once Noah puts together a complete machine and gets tired of it or needs space in his shop for another project, there will always be people like me to take it off his hands via eBay...I wonder how much Noah'd want for that 1923 General Electric Pinball machine he has?

See a good auction item for sale? Have a tip to offer or a funny auction-related story? Know a supercollector of anything and everything -- someone who built at least part of his collection via online auctions? Send a note to our columnist at He just might write about it in this space.