It was November 16, 2002, and game collector extraordinaire Sid Sackson had passed away 10 days earlier at the age of 82 following a lengthy illness. The auction of his games had been announced months earlier as a way to help the Sackson family pay medical bills.
Some felt the occasion was a sad one, and indeed it was. "To me, selling the collection in bits and pieces is like taking a giant beautiful tapestry that took years to make, and undoing all the threads and selling them and the canvas separately," Robin King, a contributor to Games magazine who knew Sackson personally, wrote in a post to the newsgroup rec.games.board. She wishes a buyer could have been found to keep the entire collection in tact.
The mood at the North River Auction House was not somber, though many of the people there knew very well what the name Sid Sackson means in the world of gaming. Some bidders were there to get a good deal, to buy games for the express purpose of reselling them. Some were there because they wanted a piece of history, at least one game that belonged to Sackson. Some were there for both reasons.
No matter the reason, everyone there was a part of history. It is doubtful (though not entirely impossible) that a similar event will take place during our lifetimes -- not counting the auction of the remaining games in Sackson's collection; another 8,000 or so games were sold in spring 2003.
The auction began promptly at 11 a.m. as the ground rules were explained, following two hours for the bidders to review the lots. At 11:05 a.m., the bidding began.
The first lot -- three boxes of assorted games -- sold for $130. Another three boxes went for $150, then another three for $130.
Several boxes of documents (letters, game prototypes, news clippings and magazines) were also auctioned, fetching a variety of prices -- I acquired one for $30; others went for $100 or more.
By 11:20 a.m., just 15 minutes after the bidding started, more than $2,500 had been spent and about 50 boxes of games and documents had been spoken for. Ahead was another 7 hours and 30 minutes of bidding before the event ended at about 7 p.m.
Box lots were sold first, followed by individual games and then shelf lots. The boxes were spread around the room, beneath the tables that held the individual games. The shelves lined the back wall and part of a side wall; many of the choicest games could be found there.
The boxes were a wild mixture, some going for $200-plus and others going for less than $50. The bidders were obviously an educated group.
One of the boxes included a copy of Cosmic Encounter along with a letter to Sid Sackson which read, essentially, "This is our first print run of this game. Please let us know what you think." It sold for about $350.
At one point, the man in front of me won a set of Indiana Jones board games (along with a copy of a board game based on the movie The Sting) that I had some interest in. I asked him why he bought them, and he said that his wife likes Indiana Jones.
"Will buying those games get you off the hook for all the other money you're spending?," I asked.
"Not even close," he said. "But maybe the fact that other people spent hundreds of dollars on old game catalogs will help."
Much of my day was spent observing, although I did manage to bring home about 75 games.
Some bidders were intense and even a bit intimidating, thrusting their hands into the air immediately after the lot number was announced and refusing to move it until they won the auction. Most were more deliberate, raising and lowering their hand between every bid.
The auction house employees, all very professional, accounted for a few laughs as the day wore on. They sometimes promoted seemingly random games from the lots ("Stadium Checkers - fun for all ages!") and constantly referred to games published by SPI as "spy games."
At one point, the man reading off the lot numbers said, "Here are some more German games, including three of those Schmidt ones," drawing chuckles from bidders familiar with German games and publishers.
At the end of the auction -- after 10,000-plus games had been sold and tens of thousands of dollars earned -- the man who seemed to be the lead auction house employee thanked everyone who attended, saying that this had been the "most professional" and friendly group of bidders he'd ever seen, sharing their knowledge and helping to make a very busy day (eight hours of bidding plus the two-hour preview) run smoothly.
Perhaps he says that to everyone, but probably not. Regardless, it provided an appropriate end to one of the most remarkable days in board game history.
Select Auction Prices
These are some of the prices that games, lots and other items were sold for during the November 2002 auction of Sid Sackson's game collection.
- Big Trail, The (year unknown), $190
- Challenge the Yankees (year unknown), $250
- Confrontation (year unknown), $180
- Ellery Queen's Trapped (1956), $80
- James Bond - Message from M (1966), $220
- Kiss on Tour (1978), $80
- Kohle, Kies & Knete, $120
- Nancy Drew Mystery Game (1957), $60
- Uncle Wiggly (1930s), $90
- Wizard of Oz, The (board only), $150
- Lot including War in the Pacific (unpunched), $550
- Approximately 40 Strategy & Tactics magazines, $350
- Lot of The General magazines, $290
- Lot of nine 3M Gamettes, $275
- Lot including Carabande Action Set (sealed), $175
- Lot of eight "album" games, $80
- 1960s and 1970s Toy Fair catalogs, $50
- Lot of 10 SPI thin games (in original plastic), $400
- Other lots of 10 SPI thin games sold for $100+ to $300+
More of Sackson's games were sold in May 2003 at a second auction.