Thursday, April 15, 2010

Fun for collectors and antiquers can be found at Paul Auction in Kewaskum
By Sheryl Popp

Several times within about a year someone asked me what my dream job would be. I tell them I wish I had a clue about that when I was younger. Today, I thought of another career I’d add to my list when I visited with Mike and Karen Paul at their auction business in Kewaskum. I would love to be an antiques appraiser, or operate a nice shop - plus, - have all that expertise. In fact, I was so intrigued that I asked the Pauls if we could divide their story into two parts. This coming August, I’m returning for another visit to delve deeper into some of the anecdotes they’ve collected over time, and look more closely at the auction process.

Karen and Mike grew up in the Kewaskum area. Both sets of parents moved their families there when Karen and Mike were children. Mike’s father Jim began the business in 1969. “It was an extension of his personal interest in accumulating things,” recalled Mike. “It got to the point where my mother told him it had to go.” Along with partner Bill Horn, who also had collections, Jim hired an auctioneer and they arranged an auction to sell their collective “stuff.” “They were just flabbergasted at the amount of money they made,” said Mike. The partners began buying more merchandise, and Bill thought they could sell it themselves. Working on their own, each developed a passable “chant,” which is what the language and style of the auctioneer is called. Jim never had any training or education regarding antiques. “He bought what he liked,” said Mike, “and in a short amount of time he quit AT&T (then Bell) and went into the auction business full time.”

The partnership dissolved amiably around 1975 when Horn left the state for a new job. Mike began work a bit younger than some children. He was five. “I couldn’t wait to be at the auctions,” he said. “I made life so miserable for babysitters that word got around town, and my folks couldn’t hire anyone to watch me. They had to take me with them to work.” True story, honest. “Our eight year old son is the same way,” said Karen, “without the bad behavior though.” By the time Mike was in fifth or sixth grade, he was really able to help, holding up merchandise, running paperwork around and delivering items to bidders. This is known as being the ringman. “Because auctions used to be conducted in rings like circuses,” explained Mike.

Paul Auctions were held in the old Holiday Inn space in West Bend, and other halls before their current hall was built in 1979. Mike was a freshman in high school. He called his first auction when he was a sophomore. “I sold a tricycle for 50 cents,” he recalled. Although Mike would have liked to join the business when he graduated high school in 1982, the recession had hit. The business couldn’t afford him, so Mike went into another family line, the Navy, where he stayed for nine years. By the mid eighties, the business had turned around and by the end of the decade, his father asked for some help. Mike came back to Wisconsin in 1991. Two days after returning, Mike called an auction. How was he prepared for that?

Fate works for our benefit sometimes. Because he loved the business, Mike attended auctions in Norfolk, where he was stationed. One day, before one began, the owner of the business approached him and said none of her staff had reported for work. Could he help? She’d seen him a number of times before. He said sure, but didn’t tell the poor woman anything else. When he held up and described the first, slightly esoteric, auction item, she was so amazed that she halted the proceedings, and Mike promised to fill her in later. He was able to work for auction houses throughout his stint in the Navy. He and Karen were married in 1996, and they bought the business from his father in 1998. “Karen quit a good job to do this full time with me,” said Mike. “We didn’t want to spend a lot of time apart because of the odd hours of this business,” she explained. “We decided to handle it together.”

The auction business has evolved over the years, and now it’s evolving again, according to Mike. “At one time, my dad even sold live cows,” he laughed. “The seventies were the heyday of fresh merchandise coming to market. Today, it’s primarily estate settlement with an emphasis on antiques.” The days of the super find are about over, he continued. One no longer stumbles over the valuable painting in grandma’s attic. Today, the best auctions happen when a collector passes away. In 2009, Paul Auction was featured in the publication “Auction Antique News,” when a “breweriana” collector’s collection was sold - and featured there again this past February, when they sold the lifetime collection of an antique lover from Appleton. Additional referrals come to the business due to downsizing and divorce. “I have people who kid me that I work one or two days a week,” said Mike. “But they only think about the day of the auction and maybe, setting it up.” In truth, Mike is often hired before things come to auction. He does a great deal of appraisal work for estate settlement and insurance purposes.

“It’s funny, but when I’m appraising an estate for three siblings, for example,” said Mike, “one will think every single item their parents owned is a valuable treasure. One would just as soon hire a dumpster and toss everything. I hope the third child is somewhere in the middle.” “My favorite stories are the ones where the family thinks everything is junk, and it’s all so good that Mike wants to see what they’ve thrown in the dumpster,” said Karen. “One time, he continued, “the family had hauled away two dumpsters full of valuable merchandise.” That’s the upbeat side, but of course he must disappoint folks sometimes. “I have to take items I know I can sell, and I can’t give people false expectations,” said Mike. Paul Auction generally hosts sales every other weekend. “Mike believes in being very descriptive and detailed in our ads,” said Karen. “It really pays to read them, and then go online to see some of the merchandise.”

Next August, we’ll continue with the mechanics of the auction, and some great stories. For now, Mike has left us with a recipe and some advice. “If you’re closing an estate, never close or sell without knowing what you’re doing. I see that all the time.” Paul Auction is located at N131 Cty. Highway S. in Kewaskum. The phone number is 262-338-3030 and the website is at Mike’s recipe is one he makes yearly for the wild game benefit dinner in New Fane – for 400 people. He’s scaled it down to handleable size.

Mike’s Famous Venison* Meatballs
2 lbs. ground venison burger*
1 lb. Italian sausage
1 envelope Lipton onion soup mix or less to taste
½ cup bread crumbs
1+ tsp. cayenne pepper, to taste
1 Tbl. Worcestershire Sauce
2 slightly beaten eggs
2 slices torn up bread*
Combine eggs and bread, and add first 6 ingredients. Mix and form into meatballs. Bake on jellyroll pan @350ยบ for 15-20 minutes. Add one large can of cream of mushroom soup for sauce when serving.
*can substitute ground beef
* Mike uses venison ground with beef fat. If using lean venison, increase Italian sausage to 2lbs.
* Dry, stale bread or crusts are ideal

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