J. Bear Savo

BEHIND THE BLOCK: Charred chattel – when an item is beyond salvageable

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The golden rule of estate liquidation is know before you throw. Those who have little or no experience in the auction industry are usually unaware of the strange and absurd items – some of which look like garbage – that can realize high prices on the block, and therefore sometimes make the tragic mistake of sending marketable items to the landfill before calling an auctioneer. So, if you’re ever tasked with liquidating an estate, follow the golden rule and know before you throw.

However, keep in mind that all rules have exceptions, even golden ones. For example, should you be the owner of a house that is half collapsed due to the fact that it has been gutted by a raging fire that was so hot it melted your canned goods and caused your cast iron coal stove to disintegrate, it’s a safe bet that there’s nothing left inside that house that is saleable.

Now, yes, particular high-end antiques and collectibles can still be sold even if they’re heavily damaged. I’ve sold handmade antique rugs with large holes in them for hundreds, even thousands. I’ve sold important paintings with slashes through them for substantial amounts. I’ve had high-quality antique glass and pottery fetch good prices despite having chips or cracks. I’ve seen good period furniture – even when broken, gouged, painted, or defaced – command strong bids. Therefore, I imagine that certain things that have been in (as in near) a fire might still be able to be sold if they have suffered some carbon scoring or smoke and water damage. However, if these items were the fire, if they were the actual fuel for the conflagration, then that’s pretty much that.

Really, I never thought there would be a need for a term worse than poor when describing the condition of items. Yet, due to an experience at an estate inspection, I have personally amended the universal condition spectrum:

  • Mint
  • Excellent
  • Very Good
  • Good
  • Fair
  • Poor
  • Ash

So, yes, I’m quite confident that there is no market for charred chattel. I’m fairly certain that combustion and consumption by flame is a kill-all.


There’s far more to being a professional auctioneer than merely marketing merchandise. Each Wednesday, Behind the Block explores the precise methods, the elemental madness, and the intrinsic humanity of the auction industry.