Instruments of Desire

by Tom Watson

The Cooper-Owen auction house, London, England, is currently accepting guitars to be auctioned in their Instruments of Desire event scheduled for February, 2004. They are seeking collectible guitars to sell at the February auction on consignment.

A story related to Cooper-Owen and collectible Strats…

The gentlemen pictured below are, from left to right: John Page, curator of the Fender Museum of Arts and Music and former manager of the Fender Custom Shop, which Page co-founded; Fender CEO Bill Schultz; and, Fender Custom Shop manager, Mike Eldred.

© 2003, James Roy

CEO Schultz is holding one of the “Hendrix Clones” produced by Eldred and members of the Fender Custom Shop last year. It is one of four made and is on display at the Fender Museum. Of the other three, one is in the Experience Music Project Museum, one was given to the Hendrix family, and the fourth was auctioned to the public earlier this year by Cooper-Owen.

The four Hendrix Clones are precise replicas of the Fender Stratocaster Jimi Hendrix played at Woodstock in 1969. The original is on display at the Experience Music Project Museum and was loaned to the Custom Shop for detailed examination and measurement. Probably the only time this famous guitar will ever be dismantled.

I participated in the auction as an Internet bidder on behalf of a collector. Was authorized to bid up to an amount in excess of $30,000 US. The auction began and the bidding was fast and furious, but I had everything under control in this real-time incremental bidding war in which you compete against both other Internet bidders and live floor buyers. I had spent a few years trading NASDAQ stocks in real-time and enjoyed the action.

Then it happened. I lost my dial-up Internet connection. By the time I could re-connect and navigate to the bidding screen the auction was over and the instrument had sold for under $11,000 US. The collector (who was disappointed but very understanding) and I contacted Cooper-Owen to see if the wining buyer would entertain an offer from the collector, but no luck. He had purchased the guitar as a present for his son and wouldn’t sell.

It certainly wasn’t the first time I had lost my connection and I had warned the collector about this risk before the auction. Live Internet auction bidding is risky business even with a solid connection. This particular auction was conducted through eBay’s live auction system and although the software driving auctions of this type is fairly solid, you’re depending on your computer behaving with Java applications that can be temperamental.

Actually, the story was a little more complex than that. Earlier on the day of the auction, the collector had submitted a pre-auction bid to the auction house, sort of like making a reserve bid on eBay — the highest amount you’d be willing to pay for the item. A few hours before the auction began, he realized that the amount he had bid was in British pounds and not dollars, meaning, he had inadvertently bid a great deal more for the guitar than he wanted to pay.

We scrambled to get the auction house to retract the bid. It took persistence to have the bid cancelled so close to the time of the auction, but an hour or so before the auction we were successful. Unfortunately though, if we had let the bid ride, the collector would have won the Hendrix Clone, probably for under $15,000.

Sometimes a thing just isn’t meant to be.

Published October 11, 2003 10:25 AM.