When three friends decided to bid for a storage container at auction, they had no idea what it might contain. The rules of the auction house, moreover, prevented them from searching inside. And apparently, no one – not even the auction house – had conducted a proper valuation of its contents.
You have to speculate to accumulate, according to the old gambling proverb. But since neither the buyers nor the sellers knew exactly what was being sold, it was near impossible to determine the odds of gaining a profit. In fact, the container might just as easily have incurred a loss.
But the friends decided to bid anyway. If they were lucky, after all, they might make a small profit; and if not, better luck next time. However, as it happened, the contents of the mystery container appeared to be worth considerably more than what the guys paid for it. The friends struck gold.
Of course, fans of reality television might be familiar with this scenario. The program Storage Wars, for example, trails auction hunters as they bid for abandoned storage containers, appraise the objects inside and, if they’re lucky, rake in a tidy profit when they sell them on.
Storage units are considered “abandoned” – and therefore eligible for auction – when the renter is three months or more in arrears. Potential buyers are permitted a brief glance of the given unit’s contents from an open door, but they are not allowed to scrutinize the goods closely. The container’s contents are also sold as a single lot.
Anyhow, such auctions have definitely captured the public’s imagination, generating several spin-off TV shows and, in some cases, praise from professional critics. For example, Storage Wars was described by the Los Angeles Times as “a strangely uplifting show – hope being one of the many things one can apparently find in an abandoned storage unit.”
And reality TV certainly appears to have been the inspiration for the three first-time bidders from the U.K. “We’ve all seen Storage Hunters and that on the telly, so we thought we’d give it a go,” Danny Owens, 26, from Coulby Newham in northeast England told the website Gazette Live.
Owens and two friends, Michael Gouder, a 29-year-old plumbing and heating engineer, and Anthony Frankish, a 29-year-old landscape gardener, had attended the auction separately “to bet on single containers.” But since they knew one another, they decided to pool their resources and make a joint bid.
The auction took place in June 2017 at Magnum Storage at Haverton Hill, an industrial estate near the town of Middlesbrough in North Yorkshire. Around 100 people attended to bid on a total of 16 storage containers. Only one of the units, though, has so far turned out to contain a jackpot.
On the day, the friends gambled $112 each and managed to outbid a rival group of buyers. “I think the other people were a bit gutted they’d missed out,” Gouder told Gazette Live. “They asked, ‘What did you see in there?’ So I went, ‘I could see money.’”
At first glance, however, the container appeared to hold little more than a jumble of worthless junk. Miscellaneous piles of hand tools, battered old boxes and stacks of dusty picture frames littered the interior of the unit, and none of it was particularly valuable or auspicious – at first glance.
But on closer examination, there were indeed a number of valuable items hidden among the piles of tat: French wine, for example, bottled during the Nazi occupation. The label indicated that it was a bottle of 1943 Chateau Gazin, which sells online for around $315 – potentially covering the cost of the entire container.
Meanwhile, a lined box contained a collection of what appeared to be antique silverware, highly polished and in excellent condition. If silver plated, its value is probably only nominal. If it’s solid silver, however, it may be worth a lot more.
Also in the container was a collection of Royal Doulton and Wedgwood pottery. Both companies have a long history of manufacturing top-notch china and porcelain which is highly sought after by collectors. Of course, the value of such items varies wildly, but it is quite possible that those pieces alone are worth a tidy sum.
Meanwhile, a court log apparently dating to the 1720s may or may not fetch much money, but it certainly has documentary and historical value; a local museum, or even the U.K.’s National Archives, might have an interest in it. In any case, there is something aesthetically pleasing about its text, carefully inscribed as it is with calligraphic flourishes.
Indeed, monetary value does not necessarily reflect other kinds of value, such as beauty or novelty. An Australian didgeridoo is unlikely to earn much on eBay, but it does make a great accessory and talking point. And if one of the lads learns how to play it, it makes an interesting sound, too.
Other containers held engines, tools, a car and medical equipment, but apparently none of it was special or valuable enough to draw the attention of the U.K.’s media – unlike the friends’ container. And while the exact value of their haul has yet to be determined, it may be worth the equivalent of several thousand dollars.
“We’ve easily made our money back straight away,” Frankish said. “And there’s loads more stuff still to be appraised, so it should be good when it’s all gone.” Indeed, whatever the final total, it does seem that the friends have more than broken even – and earned a bit of fame in the process.
In fact, the auction has generated such a positive response that Magnum Storage is planning to hold another big sell-off in September 2017. So if you live in the U.K. and fancy your chances, head on over. That said, it ought to be noted that the friends’ lucky win was an exception and not the norm.
Yet the idea of winning big is a powerful draw. After all, every week millions of people gamble on lotteries around the world or tune in to watch high-stakes gameshows. And if you’re lucky, you happen to be in the right place at the right time and you do the right things in the right way, you might just win big, too. Good luck.