Liberty Auction already was the busiest place in Pembroke on a Thursday night. Then the proliferation of TV shows such as “Auction Hunters” enhanced the appeal of an evening spent picking over bargains, antiques and oddities.
“We can tell that there has been an increase in our business with all of the TV shows that are on now, like ‘Storage Wars’ and ‘Auction Hunters’ and ‘American Pickers’,” auction house manager Lori Mattingly said. Her husband, Matt Mattingly, is Liberty Auction’s owner and lead auctioneer.
Of course, the grandpa of all appraisal-related reality shows, “Antiques Roadshow,” has aired on PBS since 1997. But a recent explosion of shows about valuing and trading used items correlates well with a boom in crowd size at the Pembroke auctions.
“American Pickers,” which debuted in January 2010, has appeared on both History and Lifetime. The Spike channel introduced “Auction Hunters” in November of that year. A&E Network launched “Storage Wars,” a show specifically about bidding on items abandoned in storage lockers, in December 2010. “Pawn Stars,” set in a Las Vegas pawnshop, has been on History since July 2009.
Meanwhile, every Thursday from 5 p.m. until well after 10 p.m., Liberty Auction hosts its weekly sale of household goods, a catchall phrase that includes just about anything that can be carried in.
Founded by Matt Mattingly 29 years ago in Hinesville, Liberty Auction moved to the cavernous, 42,000-square-foot former sewing factory in Pembroke in 1998.
That move increased the company’s floor space sevenfold, as if anticipating the crowds.
Success fuels success
Even five years ago, Lori Mattingly said, a household-goods auction would draw about 200 people on a good week.
But now on a typical Thursday evening, 500-600 people mill past the rows of furniture and folk art and pore over tables stacked with china, small appliances, antique woodworking tools and mantelpiece notions.
It’s also a case of success fueling more success. When interest started to grow, Liberty Auction added a second truck for picking up furniture and hired more employees for bringing in items. Increasing the variety helped increase the draw further, the Mattinglys said, making theirs the biggest ongoing auction in about a 200-mile area.
“It snowballed,” Lori Mattingly said.
She has been part of the company for 20 years. Both of her daughters and one of Matt Mattingly’s four sons currently work for Liberty Auction, and the other three sons grew up working in the business.
Born to auction
Matt Mattingly’s father, Ohio resident Gene Mattingly, has been a licensed auctioneer since 1953, the year Matt was born. Now 77, the senior Mattingly continues to work auctions. He also buys some items in Ohio and brings them down every couple of months to sell at his son’s location.
Liberty Auction specializes in estates, bankruptcies, defaulted storage and business liquidations.
Not everything happens in-house. In November, Liberty Auction handled the liquidation of Furniture Buzz in Savannah in the same building where, more than a decade earlier, Matt Mattingly auctioned off props used in the movie “The Legend of Bagger Vance.”
His Pembroke auction house also hosts an antique auction on the last Saturday of every odd-numbered month and recently held its first gun auction, also on a Saturday.
But the Thursday auctions are the ongoing show and include the largest variety of items. The vast majority of items still belong to other owners, and the Mattinglys sell them for a commission.
“A lot of dealers come to our auctions from antique malls, small shops and flea markets,” Matt Mattingly said. “But we also have a lot of people who come every week and buy a hot dog and a Coke and just enjoy the concessions and socialize.”
Jeff and Norma Bell from Effingham County said they come to the auction every chance they get.
On a recent Thursday night, they were looking specifically for baby items. They have a 2-year-old grandchild and another on the way. Their three children also were at the auction.
“The whole family gets involved,” Norma Bell said.
Friends and coworkers Tennessee Hammond and Jimmy Sheahan still had on their work clothes from the Imperial Sugar refinery when they stopped by.
Hammond, an Ellabell resident, has been coming to the auctions just about every Thursday for the past five years. He said his 12-year-old daughter loves the auctions, and his wife also attends sometimes. He said it’s a lot of fun for the family and that the food is good.
But this time, Hammond’s family members were elsewhere and he instead brought Sheahan, an Effingham County resident who was experiencing the auction for the first time. Sheahan owns a little farm and is interested in antique tools.
“I just like to look at the junk, basically,” said Hammond, who collects fishing items, such as antique rods and reels.
By 6:30 p.m. on a recent Thursday, auction hunter Debbie Waters of Statesboro had won a bid and was headed out with her quarry, a rough-cut wooden chair with its back shaped and painted to represent a mother rabbit in a flowered hat. It had a certain Beatrix Potter quality to it, Waters said.
A regular at the Pembroke auction house since it opened 14 years ago, Waters previously operated a shop of her own, H.L. Waters Antiques in Brooklet. But she closed the shop and now goes just as a hobby.
“It’s like a disease. It gets in your blood,” Waters said of the auction habit, but added with less apparent fatalism, “You just enjoy it. It’s fun.”
Roy and Lori Reagan from Metter have been going almost every Thursday for five years or so.
“It’s something we try to do together,” Roy Reagan said. “I do stuff like this with her, and that gives me a hall pass to go hunting all year.”
A commercial fisherman for more than 30 years, he has found some boat-related items at the auctions, such as a set of antique running lights that became a home accent. Lori Reagan, though, has a consignment area in an antique shop in Metter and resells some of the things she buys.
The Reagans recently moved and downsized a bit in the process, so Lori Reagan had to get rid of a number of her antiques and collectibles.
“I was overcollecting. I had an extra storage unit,” she admitted with a smile.
The accumulation of stuff can be a downside of the hobby. But buyers always can become sellers — and then restock.
As usual, the Reagans were not looking for anything in particular.
“If we see something that we think we can make $5 or $10 on, we’ll try to get it, and if we like it, we just keep it for decoration,” Roy Reagan said.