With a Little Luck by
(302 Stories)

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I can only remember going to one auction of the type you see in movies, where there is a fast-talking auctioneer and everybody sits very still if they are not bidding, lest a scratch of the nose leads to having bought some expensive antique. It was somewhere in Sacramento, but I can’t remember where, or even who I went with. I was in my twenties, had just bought my first house, and was looking for furnishings for it. I actually did buy a piece of furniture that was a series of connected shelves at different levels, some of which were exactly the right height to hold record albums, with a place in the middle for a turntable and amplifier. Sort of a primitive, ’70s-style entertainment center.

In a Basket Raffle, you deposit your raffle tickets only in the baskets of the items you want to win.

Silent auctions are a different story. I have participated in many of these over the years, with varying amounts of success. At my office, they used to hold a silent auction once a month on Fridays in one of the conference rooms. It was similar to a garage sale, because everyone brought in items that they didn’t want, for other people to bid on (in the spirit of “one person’s junk is another person’s treasure”). They were all small things, and generally went for no more than a few dollars, but it was a fun event. There were usually brownies and cookies for sale as well (you didn’t have to bid for those!). It took me a while to figure out that the best strategy was generally NOT to write down a bid at the beginning, and certainly not to put in additional bids if someone else outbid me, but to wait until the bidding was about to close and then pounce. Sometimes, of course, there are other bidders also waiting to pounce, and it can be difficult to make sure you are the last one.

eBay is similar to silent auctions, in that you might or might not make an opening bid when you find an item you want, and then you wait to see what happens. These auctions last several days, so you have to be patient, and keep coming back to check on your item. It does have a nice feature that you can put in the maximum that you are willing to pay, which the other bidders don’t see. Then if the price hasn’t reached or exceeded your maximum at the time the auction ends, you win the item. I spent a huge amount of time on eBay about fifteen years ago, primarily buying American Girl paraphernalia for my daughter Molly, who was ten at the time. One of the American Girl dolls is named Molly, so of course that was the one she wanted. In addition to the doll itself, there were many different outfits for her, as well as a bed, a desk, a trunk, and a set of books telling about all her adventures and showing her wearing the various outfits you could buy. There were also some girl-sized outfits so that the girl and the doll could be dressed alike. (Got some very cute matching girl and doll pajamas that both Mollys liked to wear!) I bought almost everything I could find on eBay, where, while expensive, the items were a lot cheaper than they were at the American Girl store. During that eBay phase I bought a few things for myself as well – of these, some Wedgwood soup bowls and a cut glass pitcher were the most memorable.

Finally, we come to raffles.This is something I have a lot of experience with, both as a ticket buyer and ticket seller. I can remember situations where I donated something to a raffle fundraiser, like at my kids’ school, and bought raffle tickets too, and then the terrible suspense when they are picking the winning ticket for the item I donated. I would just sit there thinking “please don’t pick my ticket!” I can’t remember if I ever won back something I had donated, but I have certainly won things that I didn’t particularly want.

The solution to that problem of winning something you don’t want is to have a Basket Raffle. These used to be called Chinese Raffles, but I think that name is no longer used in most places. In this type of raffle, each item has a basket or bag adjacent to it. You deposit your raffle tickets only in the bags of the items you want. If you buy ten tickets, you can put them in ten different bags, or you can put all ten of them in the same bag to increase the chances of winning that item.

Before the pandemic, my Sisterhood mah jongg group used to hold a Mah Jongg Fun Day every year as a fundraiser for temple programs. We would also have a raffle of donated items, and we made most of our money on the raffle tickets. For several years I was in charge of the raffle table. The featured image is a panoramic shot of the whole raffle table.

To give you a closer look, here’s the lefthand side of the table:

And here’s the righthand side:

You can see that in front of or behind each item there was a little paper bag, in green, white, lavender, pink, turquoise, or royal blue, in which people could drop their tickets if they wanted to win that item.

We held this Fun Day and raffle every year in April. Of course it was cancelled in 2020 and hasn’t been revived yet. I still have all the raffle items we collected in 2020, ready to put out whenever we next are permitted to hold our Fun Day. I haven’t looked in the bags and boxes in a long time, so it will be a surprise to see what we have. Maybe there will even be something I want to try to win with my raffle tickets.

Profile photo of Suzy Suzy

Characterizations: funny, well written


  1. John Shutkin says:

    A terrific compendium of stories about auctions and raffles, Suzy. I’d never heard of Basket Raffles, so particular thanks for that bit of edification (and I certainly understand why their name has changed).

    It sounds as if you did brilliantly on eBay with the American Girl dolls. If I had been smarter and hadn’t been so turned off by my toy hockey player experiences on eBay, I would have availed myself of it rather than overpaying at American Girl stores (to say nothing of hating being in their stores in the first place, which I always found sort of creepy). And it sounds as if you wisely applied the eBay bidding techniques that I took so long to learn to your office silent auctions.

    And good luck with your Fun Day raffle, whenever you next have it. (May I assume you’ve not suggested a similar event for your 50th reunion? Though vintage “strike shirts” would probably be a real draw.)

    p.s. Thanks to you (and Paul, of course) for this week’s song title ear worm. Perhaps the only “Wings” song I ever liked.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, John. I think I learned the bidding strategy from my office silent auctions and then applied it to eBay, rather than the other way around.

      We did not have access to an American Girl store, at the time they were only in Chicago and New York. By the time they opened one in LA, Molly was out of that phase. So eBay was the easiest place to get them. (Side note on American Girl: the founder, Pleasant Rowland, is an alumna of Wells College, which is Sabrina’s alma mater, and has donated millions to the school.) Which of the dolls did you buy for your daughters?

      I agree about Wings, I’m not a big fan either, but I do like this song!

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    You’ve experienced a great many types of auctions and raffles and explained them all very well here, Suzy. I’m not sure I’ve ever been on eBay (I think Dan purchased something there a long time ago), so I didn’t know how it worked, but now I do.

    I also didn’t know about Basket raffles, but that does make more sense than possibly getting something that YOU donated! Like you, many organizations I’ve been part of (like my chorus) have done little silent auctions at our annual farewell dinner. I always try to donate something from an old jewelry box (usually a decent piece but I no longer wear). I never buy anything. I have enough stuff around the house as is.

    • Suzy says:

      With silent auctions it’s easy enough not to bid, because nobody will notice whether you do or not, but with raffles there is a lot of peer pressure to buy tickets, so it’s nice to know that, if you win at all, it will be something that you actually want.

  3. Great story Suzy, I’ve never been to a live auction, and never thought about bidding strategies! But I have been to silent and basket auctions where I first discovered the artist Danielle Mailer who I wrote about.

    And I’ve offered my professional organizing services at basket auctions, and one gal who won 3 hours of my consulting time became a good friend!

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, Dana. I would love to win your professional organizing services, what a great prize! But were those at basket raffles rather than auctions? I’m not sure how you could have a basket auction. The purpose of the baskets is to drop your raffle tickets in.

      • Suzy, I think these annual events in my CT community we called silent auctions but I guess they should be called basket raffles as one bought tix and put them in bags marked for objects displayed (jewelry, artwork, crafts, etc) or for services described (restaurant dinners, tennis lessons, massages, fitness training, etc)

  4. Marian says:

    Great review of both auctions and raffles, Suzy. I love the idea of Basket Raffles to avoid winning your own stuff and focus on items you might actually like. Will definitely try it if groups ever resume meeting in real life.

  5. Khati Hendry says:

    Your silent auctions sound like ones I am familiar with–items of mostly minor value, and with little in the way of overbidding. And not huge fund-raisers either. I also know the basket raffle approach. You reminded me that I have been to a couple of old-time auctions that have the auctioneer doing their special repetitive call and people indicating bids by scratching ears or raising fingers. One was a cattle auction in Iowa where the buyers came from big packing houses and bid as the cows were trotted out and could be eyed by the pros (we were visiting Sally’s aunt who lives there, husband a farmer and rancher). The other was on the Eastern Shore of Maryland at the Crumpton Market–mostly old stuff from estates and people’s houses was laid out on tables as well as outside the building in rows. A fellow with an electric cart and microphone would move from table to table and people (mostly antique dealers) would bid on individual items and then the remnants on the table as a lot. Listening to the patter and speed of it all was fascinating. And then you could eat comfort food from the Mennonite kitchen or buy their wares at the stalls.

  6. Your opening sentence, with the reference to the “scratch of the nose” was a witty and engaging one. All the rest was quite informative. I too love the “basket” type raffle; there is one during the December holidays in one of the Williams College gyms (with the floor suitably covered in tarps), in which all the local businesses and most of the people in our town participate.

  7. Jim Willis says:

    I liked your auction and raffle story, Suzy. Looks like you’ve picked up some interesting items over the years, and you’re right that raffles can be great fund-raisers. My experience with both has been limited, although a friend who works at Keeneland Race Track here in Lexington, KY, invited me to the big fall sale of thoroughbreds there about four years ago, just after American Pharaoh (a local horse) won the Triple Crown. The sale horses started at about $20K and went north of $10 million, so I was absolutely afraid to move a muscle the whole time.

  8. Dave Ventre says:

    You taught me something! I never knew what the “basket raffle” sort of raffle was called, although I’ve participated in a number of them, mostly at greyhound rescue fundraising events.

    Classic raffles with everyone being sly and careful always remind me of the “American Pickers” show….

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