This 1967 Amphicar, along with another (not shown), came from an estate in Valparaiso, Indiana. The family had originally bought eight. In the process of being restored, this vehicle sold for $31,165. The other brought $18,250. Kraft photo.
Thirty-five issues of Playboy magazine from a private collection excited buyers. This January 1954 issue, Vol. 1, No. 2, brought $1000. Others, also in mint or near-mint condition, fetched $100 to $725. Kraft photo.
The full-body lion mount, 77" head to tail, brought $1500. The full-body Texas longhorn steer sold for $2750.
This Pairpoint reverse-painted hummingbird lamp sold for $1200. Kraft photo.
This Japanese diver’s helmet, 1930’s, sold for $1500. Kraft photo.
This Gallé vase, 6" high, carved with trees sold for $1100. Kraft photo.
Kraft Auction Service, Crown Point, Indiana
Hard to believe, but in bucolic northwestern Indiana there is a 36-year-old auction house run by a 26-year-old who just realized around $600,000 on his most recent multi-ring anniversary sale, held January 12. Gunning for a cool million (or more) on an anniversary sale in the near future, he just might make it. And he runs it all out of a shop at his home. There is no physical plant and no full-time staff.
He does it on his own: answering the phone, pickups and hauling, e-mails, etc. Part-time staff (heavy on family) is brought in as needed, hired for setup and auctions.
Such is the growing empire of auctioneer Jonathan Kraft, three years out of a Purdue MBA with undergrad degrees in marketing and business administration. He is the current vice president and a board member of the Indiana Auctioneers Association.
As did many auction enterprises, Kraft Auctions started with a founder known as the Colonel. Jonathan’s father, Conrad “Colonel” Kraft, graduate of the Indiana College of Auctioneering and a veteran of hay, poultry, and estate auctions, plus what his son calls “box lots,” is now mostly retired. At 68, Conrad lets the kid run a lot of the show. According to the company’s Web site, these days Conrad is an involved and avid rabbit breeder.
“When I was a senior in high school, I promised my parents I’d go to auction school,” Jonathan told us. “I never intended to, but when I got there, I met these great people, and it was fun.”
When he was 19, in college and working in the family business, he said that a pair of Sandwich glass white opalescent celery vases was consigned. Working a phone in his college dorm room, he cold-called Tom Monaghan, the founder of Domino’s Pizza, in Detroit. A speedy search had told him that Monaghan collected early glass. Monaghan bid $15,000 for the pair, which became an $18,700 sale at auction. It was an astounding result for an item considered downright exotic for Kraft at the time.
“I almost dropped the phone,” Jonathan recalled. “My roommate was screaming. It was wild.” When the reserve bid surfaced at auction, “The whole crowd just kind of looked at me.”
Kraft learned a valuable lesson that day. “That point on that day validated me for antiques.” In short order, more art and antiques found their way to his sales.
Kraft held around 100 auctions in 2012, selling a ranch home in Merrillville, Indiana, for $116,600 (with buyer’s premium) and a John Deere tractor with a loader and mower for $12,200. At the anniversary sale he moved a Dodge Charger for $30,000 or “five times what we thought it would bring.”
He got $1250 for a vintage Arrow collar store display in an oak case and $3555 for what he described as a mid-century California rocking chair. That’s not shabby.
There are no catalogs or product descriptions for a Kraft anniversary sale. At this sale, we arrived a half-hour after start, but only the very earliest attendees managed to capture a stapled list of lots to be sold.
One goes to a Kraft anniversary sale for the thrill of the hunt, the possibility of a find, and social stimulation you would not believe. With some 4000 lots and five auction rings operating simultaneously, how could it not be so?
Twelve auctioneers, all from Indiana, presided. We spotted Amish auctioneer Lyle Chupp of Chupp Auctions, Shipshewana, Indiana, manning a podium. Kraft estimates that about 2000 attended the sale on site. Another 3500 were registered on line. Bids came in via AuctionZip, Proxibid, and LiveAuctioneers. According to Kraft, the spread is for customer comfort. He figures that $150,000 sold on line.
The sale was held in Crown Point, Indiana, on Court Street down from the town’s fabled wedding cake former courthouse, in the old main building of the circa 1852 Lake County Fairgrounds. The entrance is like the approach to an old rural fair. The ambience continues on entry where a visitor crossing the threshold is hit by the view of a crowd as far as the eye can see. Add a cacophony of noise and the pungent smell of grilled onions.
The best stuff was up front where a table holding a consignment of Tiffany lamps stood front and center. More about those later. This was ring two with Tiffany lamps, art glass, early Playboy magazines, art tiles, jewelry, and other high-ticket items. An auctioneer, with seated assistants behind a screen that displayed lots, presided for a capacity audience, many sitting on wooden chairs. Other rings were standing room only.
Ring one, where Jonathan watched, featured taxidermy, guns, toys, and petroliana. Ring three involved some 60 tables of miscellaneous glassware and assorted smalls. Our head was swimming, but we think we spotted assorted early photography as well.
Another ring in the southern part of the building sold fishing lures and gear, costume jewelry including bag lots, and militaria. We spotted one table covered with insignia caps and uniform jackets of all ages and types. The final ring covered the perimeter with decorative ironwork, garden antiques, big ornamental pieces, and the like.
Dressed down for comfort and intent on the merchandise, the crowd ranged from families with young children to serious lookers with loupes. We spoke to dealers looking for merchandise. Most viewers were there to buy. Others were more inclined to browse and stroll.
A casual visitor looking over the crowd might dismiss many as hayseeds, but Hoosiers have enjoyed puncturing that cliché forever. There’s money and merchandise in the area. Last year Kraft sold a Tiffany Studios linenfold lamp to a local buyer for $23,000. With Illinois residents fleeing their financially challenged state for northwestern Indiana, there will soon be even more buyers.
We’re thinking that Jonathan Kraft will need that MBA to deal with rapid growth. When asked how he planned to move forward, he told us, “We can’t get more stuff in the building, but we will keep growing. We’re in a blue collar area and can only go so high, so we’ll go up in quality. Perhaps we’ll keep two rings on line and keep upgrading those rings.”
Only two of the Tiffany lamps sold, but they were there, and that’s what matters to Kraft.
“The husband may come for old toys, but the wife can see and pick up some glass…That’s the great thing about the auction business,” he said. “It’s a true entrepreneur’s business.”
For more information, check the firm’s Web site (www.kraftauctions.com) or call (219) 973-9240.
Originally published in the May 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest