An Interview With Steve Stanton
Steve Stanton, Auctioneer
On Sunday January 14th, CAPS was honoured to have
Steve Stanton of Stanton’s Auctioneers, Appraisers
and Realtors speak at our meeting. Steve covered the
many aspects of running a specialized phonograph and
musical instrument-type auction, as well as tips and
facts for disposing of part or all of a collection (plus
dealing with issues that might be unique to Canadians
bringing items into the United States).
Prior to his presentation, Steve kindly sat down with
the writer to answer some questions about his business,
his life and his interests, as well as his perspective
on our most interesting hobby.
Just the day before the visit to CAPS, Steve was running
an auction in Michigan that lasted seven hours.
He is often travelling all over the United States and
Canada to view prospective collections and items. Steve
is a true gentleman who knows his business inside
out. I was amazed at his recollection of the thousands
of items that have passed through his auctions over
the years, their values and the many private collections
from which they came.
MD: Tell us a bit about yourself. Where did your family
originate? Have you always resided in Michigan – if
not, when did you move there? We noticed on your
website that you have been doing antique auctions
since the 1950s. How did all of this get started?
This oak Reginaphone 240 with Lions head
exceptional finish brought $18,500.
SS: Our family has always been in the mid-Michigan
area. Our father, William J. Stanton, began auctioneering
in the early 1950s and formed our firm in 1954. He
offered auctioneering, real estate sales and insurance.
Our business began to grow, so Dad decided to eventually
sell off the insurance portion and concentrate on
the auctions and real estate. As I was growing up, I
worked in the business and then went to Reppert’s
School of Auctioneering in 1970. My two sisters (Kathy
Swan and Patsy Stine), are part of the business as well.
In addition, we have Michael Bleisch (an auctioneer),
and numerous people who assist in the day-by-day activities
of running a large auction firm. We conduct approximately
170-180 auctions each year including our
two, three-day music machine auctions that are held in
the spring (April or May) and fall (one week prior to USA
Thanksgiving in November).
I am married to my wife Debra, and have two daughters
(Elizabeth and Stephanie -- one of whom assists us
with our web site and other with computer requirements).
MD: Your website indicates that you sell real estate,
farm machinery, home and property auctions - how did
antique music machines become so prominent at Stanton's?
How did you gain knowledge about the merchandise
SS: In the 1970s, I went to look at a large collection of
phonographs, music boxes & various machines owned
by the late Al Parrish of Lansing, Michigan. Shortly
thereafter, I started a collection of my own. From that
point forward, through collecting (but with a tremendous
amount of help from other collectors and individuals
interested in the field), I was fortunate to gain my
knowledge and experience from handling the thousands
of machines that we have sold and seen over
the years. I have always had an interest in machines.
My original collection was later disposed of, but I still
have some accent pieces in my home. Our firm normally
tries to adhere to a policy of not competing on the
items that are being offered through our auctions (prior
to, and at the auctions). We feel it is a conflict of interest
for not only our sellers, but also the buyers alike.
My wife and I are both collectors of other types of antiques
and collectibles that we have decorated our
home with over the years.
This Regina Rookwood decorated
console music box
sold for $20,500.
MD: What are some of the most interesting and expensive
pieces Stanton's has auctioned, including antique
music machine-related and other? What stands out in
your mind? What irritates you and what excites you
about the auction business?
SS: We have been fortunate over the years to offer
many items that have produced interesting results.
There was a Berliner Ratchet-wind machine with records
that had been purchased by the consignor for
$135 at an antique show, and that sold for $23,465.
Other items that stand out in my mind are: the Multiphone
24-cylinder record coin-op machines for
$71,000 and $77,000 when a previous example had
sold 8 years earlier for $35,000; Edison Ajax $45,000;
a very interesting set of Talking Scales (that would tell
your weight) from a Colorado Estate that sold for
$5,500; Seeburg KT nickelodeons for $32,500 and
$44,000; Berliner JS gramophone for $38,500; Regina
Automatic Changer with stained and leaded glass and
clock top $43,500 and $38,000. But even the small
pieces of lesser value certainly can be very significant
and interesting, i.e. advertising, record collections, juke
boxes, just about every category (including cabinetry)
usually presents some great pieces and opportunities.
In addition to the music machine field, we find our firm
handling other pieces that are sought after: last year
saw a 1923 John Deere “Spoker” D tractor bring
$23,500 (going to a bidder in the Netherlands); a
1945 Harley Davidson “Knucklehead” motorcycle, that
had been purchased by a WWII soldier upon discharge,
found a new owner for $32,500; a Winchester Model
1886 – 45-70 Deluxe rifle went through one of our gun
sales for $11,000; and an estate sale that specialized
in tobacco tins saw many of the pieces bringing
$1,000 - $2,000 prices for the pocket tin examples.
MD: Your auction of May 2016 had some extremely
rare and collectible pieces such as a Berliner JS, Type
A, and a Ratchet-wind. How do you come across such a
fabulous assortment of historic pieces such as these?
Why do the sellers choose Stanton’s for the rarest of
This 1946 Harley Davidson Knucklehead
motorcycle, purchased with discharge
WWII service, sold for $32,500.
SS: We have been very fortunate over the years to receive
some very fine pieces and collections to sell. We
believe that there are a number of reasons why the
sellers have come to us. First, our rates are very competitive.
Next, and even more important, is the fact that
the buyer’s premium that we charge, being 10%, is significantly
less than the majority of other firms across
North America. Some firms are charging up to 27% to
the buyers. Any seller that does not realize that a
charge like that is actually affecting their bottom line
(when the buyer adjusts their bids to compensate for
the same) is not analyzing the whole picture. We offer
the bidders a variety of ways to place a bid: the ability
to leave bids, e-mail bids or make a phone bid if they
are not able to attend the auction in person. We have
also specialized in this field for nearly 40 years so our
customer base and direct advertising program reaches
just about everyone with an interest in this field. The
buyers and sellers (who many times have worn both
hats over the years) have come to know that they have
been and will be treated honestly and fairly by Stanton’s.
MD: Do you sell the items on consignment, or do you
buy entire collections for the auction? Are minimum
reserve prices set? If so, what are the advantages and
disadvantages of such a set up?
This Watling Bird of Paradise
slot machine sold
SS: The items and collections are sold on consignment.
In my 48 years of being in the auction business, we
have only purchased two collections outright, and it
was after our suggestion to the owners to have us sell
for them (as opposed to us purchasing). Our belief is
that anyone anytime will receive more for their collection
when it is offered piece by piece to a group of interested
collectors, than when it is sold in a bulk-lot
sale. This is obvious when individuals purchase collections
and then come to us to later liquidate. In regards
to minimums, at certain times they can be set, after a
discussion between the owner and myself. Sometimes
my minimums are used, but usually the pieces
being sold will generate (through competitive bidding) a
fair and more than acceptable market value. Items can
come into the auction with a reserve bid (there is nothing
wrong with putting a $5000 reserve on a $10,000
item). However, sometimes an item will just not generate
the interest that it should. We do not force buyers
to take home something they do not want, so in cases
like that we may just pass on that item until the next
MD: Can you give us an idea of the type of person(s)
who buy, collect, and pay high prices for these rare arti-
facts? Where does your auction audience typically
come from? (dealers, collectors, general public). What
is the rough percentage of dealers to collectors? How
far reaching (geographically) is your audience?
SS: That is an impossible question to answer, because
the answer encompasses nearly everyone! Private individuals
would fall into all ages, although the majority
probably would be from 45 to 75 years old, due to the
fact most people need to get their family and financial
obligations out of the way before they are able to pursue
collecting on a serious level. The majority are men,
but there are also women as well as couples who pursue
the hobby. Museums and investors are also clients.
One of my favourite observations is attempting to
separate the dealers from collectors. Nearly every collector
will usually become a dealer, and every dealer
usually is a collector. Our audience covers buyers,
sellers and collectors from all over the U.S.A, and Canada,
as well as Europe, Australia and New Zealand, China
& Japan. Surprisingly, there has never been a great
deal of interest or response from Mexico or South
A very rare collection of various high end Victrolas
created much action at a recent auction.
(Photo courtesy of Blain McCutchen)
MD: Tell us about some of the preparation that goes
into one of your phonograph auctions (from road trips,
transporting, cataloguing, listing, photographing, to final
sale). What commission percentage do you charge
for all this work and effort?
SS: Our music sale takes nearly six months to coordinate.
Normally we will travel to the location of the collection,
catalogue the collection on site with a laptop,
photograph the items, pack the machines (usually using
pads and/or bubble wrap inside plastic tubs for
protection) and then transport them back to a storage
location, awaiting the move to the auction site for the
sale set-up. This whole process takes quite some time
and is a lot of work. We also have to crop and edit each
photo as well as ensure that a “lot number” is assigned.
When the client’s items are moved, an “Inland
Marine Insurance Policy” covers them and, when they
reach the storage facility, they are covered by a
$1,000,000 bond. Over the course of the six-month
period (prior to the auction), the material is continuously
publicized in not only the antique publications, but in
the specialized organization publications throughout
the country and around the world - both in print and on
our website. Finally, the catalog is printed and sent to
all individuals who have requested one. Our catalogs
usually contain 650-900 photographs, as well as the
entire listing (and photographs) that are available on
Stanton’s often gets jukeboxes in their auctions. Here
we see a 1946 Rockola, a couple of early 1950’s
Wurlitzers, two 1954 Seeburg R’s,
1948 Seeburg Trashcan.
(Photo courtesy of Blain McCutchen)
MD: Trends and Observations: You, probably more than
most people in this hobby, have the best idea of where
interest in the antique phonograph hobby is trending
and how it is doing in general. What are some of your
recent observations? What trends did you see in the
collector phono industry in the past 10 years – what is
more popular now and what has waned? What are the
hottest items in the auction business? What do you see
as collectables of growing interest?
SS: The rare and desirable examples continue to attract
a great deal of interest, and always seem to generate
strong bidding. The more common pieces (like
Edison Standards of which millions were made) have
softened over the last 10 years, but that has been the
same thing in just about every category of antique collecting.
However, we have to ask ourselves if perhaps
they were over-valued in the first place, and now prices
have dropped to where they should more realistically
be. As for the field of music boxes, even though good
music boxes are still in demand, some of that market
may have softened due to the age of the collectors who
strongly supported the market 15-20 years ago. The
early, unusual, rare and book-identifiable machines,
along with sought-after jukeboxes and coin-operated
machines always seem to attract interest from collectors.
I have noticed that demographics have changed
over time and we have been able to expand our sales
to a wider audience. The types of items have expanded
and we see better (rarer) items coming to auction more
often. Yes, the market place does have cycles and values
can change. Some items increase in value while
others do not. However, it appears that this hobby is
indifferent to economic conditions and that the ‘best of
the best’ continues to increase in value.
Machines up for auction at Stanton's
(Photo courtesy of Blain McCutchen)
MD: What is the median age of the buyer/collector
(age, gender, social or ethnic background?) Who is the
typical purchaser at your auctions? Do you see any
younger people getting involved in the hobby? Is the
supply of items increasing, static or dwindling?
SS: Even though there are some younger buyers, I have
noticed that in most fields of collecting the average age
of the collectors is in the age 40-70 range. This hobby
has never been a younger person’s passion. The field
of collecting music machines and related items lends
itself more to male collectors but, as I mentioned earlier,
there are also female collectors and couples who
study the field and collect. There is always a possibility
that some younger people will develop an interest in
the field, and begin collecting at an earlier age. However,
the main factor that comes into play is the availability
of funds that an individual requires to collect, and
the point (or age) when they have the extra money to
pursue a hobby like this. They have to first establish a
home, raise children (and put through college) before
having funds left to spend for themselves on a hobby.
An American Berliner “Trademark” gramophone
Clark Johnson reproducer,
“hold down” screw and
Regarding the question of supply …in the last few years
there have been many machines that have come onto
the market due to the age of collectors, estates and
economic factors. Over the years, we have seen increases
and decreases in the number of machines and
related items (and other types of antiques) that hit the
market. This will always continue to happen, with a resultant
influence on the prices that are received. It is
amazing, however, the number of collections there are
“hidden” away. Individuals that are unknown to nearly
everyone in the various collector societies and organizations
have accumulated these. In my opinion, there
are still a lot of hidden treasures out there that will be
uncovered and found (and end up in our auction). I
have also noticed another trend: in prior years when a
person passed away, the family would keep some or all
of the possessions as inheritance, to be enjoyed by
future generations (often in the same house). Now with
especially new homes (and condominiums) being so
small, there is little interest in keeping the collection,
so it is liquidated.
MD: The photographs that accompany your advertising
are beautiful. Do you take them yourself or have someone
who does it for you? Can you elaborate a bit about
this aspect of the auction?
A beautiful mahogany Victor IV with black horn
unusual style “mum” floral decoration
from the Tea
SS: Thank you for your kind words! I, and the other auctioneer,
Michael Bleisch, handle all of the photography
work ourselves. We feel that it is important to do as
good a job as possible, offering multiple views of the
various pieces. Additional pictures (when requested)
are available to potential buyers on items being offered,
and that will help a bidder decide if they are interested
in pursuing the piece which is being sold.
Much time is spent cropping and editing the photos to
make them look good in our publications. When we
first started these auctions, there were about 25 to 30
phonographs in each one, with bidders coming from
about five states. Now we typically have 1500+ items
in each sale and the audience is all over the world.
MD: How has the internet, specifically online auctions
like e-Bay, and even Kijiji, transformed the antique music
machine auction business? Has there been any impact,
good or negative?
SS: The internet and technology is definitely a benefit
in the promotion of items being sold. We continue to
promote the auction and items on our website at
www.stantons-auctions.com, as well as Auction Zip,
and two other Auction Association sites. We do not use
an online bidding format for a couple of reasons. First,
a hands-on inspection by the buyers is something that
cannot be improved upon. Next, our auctions permit email
and mail bids, as well as phone bidding during the
actual auction. However, the online format, when used
in conjunction with most auctions, reduces the attendance
to a point that restricts the competitive bidding on
a large number of the pieces being offered. In addition,
the online bidding offered by most firms requires a buyer's
premium that ranges from 20%-27%. I do not believe
that the internet competes with our auctions. Bidders
know that they are getting from Stanton's an item
that is properly described and identified. They can always
call me (or my staff) if they have questions about
something. I have even played machines for people
over the phone!
An Auxetophone phonograph with mechanical/
electrical amplification using compressed air
MD: Attending an auction: please describe what a firsttime
novice attendee of your auction can expect.
Please describe viewing times, testing and playing of
each machine, registering, security deposits, etc. What
tips or suggestions do you have for buyers attending a
Stanton’s Auction? How does the purchaser pay? Is
there an area hotel that gives preferred rates?
SS: It is really quite simple. The first thing will normally
be how amazed they will be at the offering. When a
collector walks into one of our sales and is able to see
over 1,000 items, hundreds of phonographs and music
boxes, roller organs, records and everything imaginable
in one room, it usually makes them wonder why they
waited so long to attend their first sale! All they need to
do is register with our cashier with a driver’s license.
Method of payment for purchases is cash or personal
check; or MasterCard / Visa is accepted with a 3% handling
fee (all payable in U.S. funds). The next sale for
April 26, 27, & 28, 2018, will be held in Hastings,
Michigan (not Charlotte), and we are presently working
with the Holiday Inn Express to see if they will offer a
special rate. Hastings is only 23 miles from Grand Rapids,
which is a good airport for anyone flying in.
MD: Absentee bidding: what is the percentage of absentee
bidding vs. those who attend in person? What is
your process for accepting absentee bids (phone, writing,
e-mail, etc.)? How would a phone bidder know
when a certain item is coming up for bid? Do you see
your business becoming "on-line bidding”?
SS: Even though it varies per sale, I would estimate
that approximately 15-20% of the dollar value comes
from the absentee bidders. As discussed previously, email,
phone, and even phone bidding during the sale
are acceptable. (Editor note: Please see accompanying
outline about leaving a bid at an auction sales.)
Process for leaving a bid or bidding at one of our auction sales
As an interested auction participant, you have the opportunity
to bid on a piece by leaving a bid with us prior
to the time of the sale, which we will execute for
you, just as if you are standing in the crowd bidding
for yourself…i.e. if you leave us a bid of a $1,000 and
can buy it for $800. you will get the item. If someone
else falls right on the $1,000 amount or pays more
than that, then they will be the buyer…the only exception
is if you say you will pay “$1,000 plus one”…
meaning one more bid over the $1,000 amount if a
“tie” occurs…. but that is your decision.
You also have the opportunity to bid via phone as the
item is being auctioned. If you decide to do this, we
will call you 5 minutes before the sale and then you
can participate as I, or any auctioneer, offer the piece
through live bidding.
If you are the successful bidder, the cost is the hammer-
price plus 10%, plus sales tax if applicable.
The state tax is not charged if we ship the item, or if
you appoint a shipper and the piece is shipped to a
location out of state or out of the country. The other
exception is if you have a sales tax number.
If you give us permission to release the piece to an
individual at the sale, we will do so.
You will then need to send us a cheque, or you are
able to pay by Visa or MasterCard (with a 3% handling
fee) immediately following the auction.
If you desire for us to ship the piece, we will take it to
a shipper (at no charge) and then you will negotiate
(with the shipper) how you want to have it shipped,
the amount of insurance, etc.
Please feel free to contact us anytime with further
MD: Do you have a good idea beforehand of which
items will generate a lot of activity and enthusiasm
among bidders? Have there been some sleepers that
have surprised you (or conversely, some that you expected
to go for much more, but generated little buyer
A Victor Junior in excellent condition
with good original
paint on the horn
SS: Usually I have a good handle on what the items will
generate but, of course, there are always pieces that
bring more bidding activity than you would expect.
Some pieces periodically bring less, but normally when
they do, there is a good reason for it; i.e. condition,
missing parts or some other factor that I may not have
taken into consideration. Value, of course, is all in the
eye of the beholder, and that is what makes this so
interesting from day to day. In the end, almost everything
I have something like 550 to 600 books that I use for
reference. This helps me get a better idea on values,
and is still far better in my opinion, than the internet.
MD: Selling at Stanton’s: how would the average per-
son sell a piece at Stanton’s? How would they
transport it to you? Who is responsible for the item’s
safety? Is it hard for a Canadian seller to get a machine
over the border in either direction - what is required for
this? What are the costs to sell an item—summary? As
a Canadian, do I have to pay Michigan sales tax (can I
get a refund)?
SS: A consignor can bring the items to us, or we can
transport the items for them. We can handle the moving
of the items from a Canadian seller to the U.S.A. by
preparing the proper inventory and forms and using a
Customs Broker. Customs wants an itemized list showing
the age, value and weight. This is also good for the
collector, so he will have a list for his own reference.
A front mount Columbia Graphophone
While the items are in transit and stored at our location,
a $1 million Inland Marine Policy covers them.
We have a 10% buyer's premium (other auction houses
typically charge 23 to 30%). Our advertising costs are
typically in the $35,000 range for each auction, so the
10% premium helps to cover this. The seller bears a
15% commission rate, the cost to ship the items to
Stanton’s and Customs duty.
If the collection is “antique” (100 + years old) the fees
are minimal. If the items are not antique, there is a duty
charge, but the fee still is not a restrictive amount.
Also remember to consider the difference in funds – a
Canadian seller will benefit by approximately one-third
more by selling in U.S. funds.
If a person wants, they can sell their entire collection,
or only one item in our auction – it is up to them.
Any buyer participating in our sales (as an onsite buyer)
has to pay the Michigan State Sales tax of 6%, unless
1). They have a sale tax license number, or 2). The item
is shipped to their location by a professional shipper.
Reserves on certain items can be used to protect the
interest of the clients that we are working for. These
situations are discussed, and the value of the items
and the amount of the base figures or minimums are
set prior to the pieces being offered.
A child’s toy Bingophone in excellent condition
good original graphics
MD: Advertising: we know you do extensive advertising
for your auctions (and CAPS greatly thanks you for your
patronage!). What is your recommendation for the best
manner a potential buyer can get information about
the items in your auctions? Is a catalogue available, or
should we look on-line?
SS: A free catalog is available to everyone 3 weeks prior
to the time of the auction. Any interested party merely
has to contact our office and request one. The photographs
and other ads are posted, as they are received,
on our website.
MD: Do you see more auction inventory becoming
available, as collectors are an aging group? What have
you noticed in sellers lately?
SS: I believe that our collectors' organizations, associations
and societies, coupled A front mount Columbia Graphophone model with the publications that
they print, and the books that have been written on
these topics continue to show the public and our collectors
the significance of these historical items. Everyone’s
actions and efforts have continued to bring attention
and interest to both the items and the associated
In general, the market has softened in the past ten to
fifteen years. However, maybe the market just got too
hot for a while, and now it is more where it should be.
In my opinion, the market is still exceptionally good for
exceptionally good items. There is still a lot of money
being put into this hobby and there is still tons of stuff
out there that nobody knew about. In the last five to
seven years, I have witnessed several large collections
being sold off by their estates. There are many collectors
and hobbyists who do not participate or make their
collections known. When they pass on, their family has
to dispose of the collections and this is when the items
enter our auction.
An oak Victor V with wooden oak spear tip horn
MD: I personally have a large record collection, as do
some of our other members. If the time comes and I
want to dispose of it, would Stanton’s be a good venue
SS: We always have records in our auction. Sometimes
the more desirable ones are sold one at a time; others
are sold by the box. A couple of recent sales come to
mind: a Ku Klux Klan record recently went for $980, a
Vogue Picture Disc (Rum and Coca-Cola) for $5,000
MD: If you were stranded on a desert island, and could
bring one antique musical piece with you, what would it
be? Is there one piece you would really like to have in
SS: If I were to be stranded on a desert island, I would
bring something in the shape of a boat so that I could
get off the island! Seriously, I really like the Upright Lyre
shaped Multiphone cylinder phonograph machines.
They play 24 records and there were only about 200
machines made. I have only seen three in all my years
of auctioning and they have gone for $38,000,
$71,000 and $77,000. If money were no object, I
would have a big house and decorate each room in it
with different pieces from different periods – Arts &
Crafts, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Victorian, etc.
MD: It must be so hard for some people, who have
amassed a large collection all their lives, to let it go.
How do you address this with potential sellers? Do you
also find that some have unrealistic expectations (on
A giant Nipper stands perched on a 1930’s
jukebox while a 1948 Seeburg
“trashcan” jukebox can
be seen to the left.
SS: Yes, some people have a very hard time parting
with their collection, and do not know how to handle it.
However, every situation is different. It could be an estate
sale, in which the person has passed away and left
the collection to relatives to dispose of. There could
also be monetary reasons – the items were originally
bought as an investment, or the funds are needed to
put their kids through college. Sometimes the items
are not as dear to them as you might think. As part of
the auction process, we take detailed pictures of each
piece, and these are provided to the seller (who can
use them as a keepsake). Having the pictures is sometimes
sufficient for many people, as it is a permanent
documentation of what they once had as a collection.
In terms of value, most people seem to recall what they
paid for an item and have an idea of what it is worth
today. However, sometimes they might have a very unrealistic
expectation of value based especially on television
shows (who inflate the value for sensationalism).
In the end, these individuals may get a bad taste in
their mouth if they do not realize this unrealistic
amount at auction.
I too am a collector and always have been. However,
there are no guarantees on the value of an item. You
spend your money on it, enjoy it for a while, then stick
your neck out (selling it) and you will then find out what
it is really worth at that moment.
MD: As an auctioneer, what is one of your pet peeves?
SS: I like to keep the auction going at a fast, non-stop
pace. My crew brings the items up and takes them off
the table in a timely and organized fashion. As such,
anything that interrupts the flow or distracts my attention
is something that we always try to avoid, as it can
become confusing and frustrating to everyone involved.
MD: Steve: we greatly appreciate your taking the time
to speak to our members at a CAPS meeting, as well as
for sitting down to answer the questions for this article.
Thank you for the chat and for sharing your vast
knowledge and insight into our unique hobby. We wish
you the greatest of success with your future auctions
Should you wish to contact Steve directly, he may be
Steven E. Stanton
Auctioneer-Real Estate Broker
144 S. Main, Box 146
Vermontville, MI 49096 USA
(517) 331-8150 cellular
(517) 852-0627 eve.
All photos courtesy of Steve Stanton
unless otherwise noted.