The Art of the Auction Chant: Mooney's East Durham
Visiting Mooney's East Durham Auction House has been a family tradition of ours for 4 generations. When I was a kid, my grandfather would take me to the old Auction Barn to listen to the auctioneer sing away solid wood furniture, jewelry, old-school firearms, antiques, and ephemera. Besides the location of the auction house, not much has changed. Today, Al Cardamone, Jr. carries on his father's tradition, casually spinning smooth, hypnotic chants, pointing toward bidders with one hand and balancing a cigarette in the other. I could listen to him for hours:
Mr. Cardamone's showmanship shines up every item on the auction block. As his people presented a cardboard box of rusty oil cans, he smiled widely and declared, "From the set of The Wizard of Oz to you!" I think they went for 7 bucks.
The auctions feel like locals-only affairs, starting on the front porch of Mooney's Auction House on a weekday afternoon and often stretching into the evening. Bidders line up along the edge of Route 145, amid a couple of orange traffic cones, which offer little protection from the cars whizzing by. Visitors sign in by the snack bar in the back of the building, and are given a number on a paper plate, but Mr. Cardamone calls out most bidders by name.
"Handmade tapestry, maybe Chinese? Maybe Japanese?" he pondered aloud, as another guy held up a large piece of embroidered fabric for all to see. It had a vaguely Asian, '80's vibe. "Hey, maybe this belonged to the Emperor of Japan, and now it could be yours! Can I get $40?"
Someone took home the tapestry. Another bidder won a set of rusty tools.
No takers on the lot of vintage phones.
Inside the building, it was hotter and mustier, but bidders waited patiently in orange vinyl chairs, which can be reserved in advance in you call ahead. All the items up for auction are on view in advance, in person and via Mooney's website. Mr. Cardamone and his crew moved quickly, and it was clear that the serious bidders knew exactly which pieces they were after.
In some cases, everyone even seemed to know the previous owners of the items. With my kids in tow, I was struggling to see and hear, but I'm pretty sure a trunk, or maybe a bench, was introduced as coming "straight from Joey's attic, may he rest in peace."
My 7-year-old son was deeply enthralled by the auction and couldn't go home empty-handed, so we scored him a box of old road maps, which I'm pretty sure will provide hours of entertainment.
Upcoming auctions are listed on the Mooney's Auction Service site, which also has photos of all the items to be auctioned off. Don't be fooled by the bored expressions on Mr. Cardamone's face as he models each piece—it's worth the trip just to see him come to life and work his magic as an auctioneer.