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Cecil County Life

North East's showroom of comings and goings

Nov 01, 2017 12:30PM ● By J. Chambless

Jim and Elisa Racine in the North East showroom of Racine Auctions. (Photo by Richard L. Gaw)

By Richard L. Gaw
Staff Writer

In the showroom of Racine Auctions in North East, there can be found a tightly-bound and plentiful supply of World War II documentary CDs, an American flag, a pair of oversized large black boots, a Coors Light poster, a Michael Kors bag, and a porcelain horse. And that's just in a ten-foot square radius.

There are no typical days in the life of an auctioneer and appraiser, but on a recent Fall afternoon, the world of Racine Auctions was running according to its usual pattern. Four delivery men were putting the final strapping and protective cloth around an antique dining set for delivery to a home nearby. At the rear of the storeroom, several items from an estate sale in Chesapeake City waited to be cleaned and dusted in preparation for an auction in November. Jim Racine's wife Elisa asked her husband about other appraisals that have recently dotted his calendar, and of course – and as in every auction house – small pockets of the curious poked and prodded through the 50 lots of antiques, collectibles, jewelry, military items and Americana that has found its way into the showroom from homes and barns and sales and collections.

“I've been doing this my whole life, and it's all I've ever known,” Jim said, smiling at the accumulation of a life's work up and down the rows of the auction house.

To anyone who has ever been associated with Racine Auctions as a friend or a business associate will attest to the truth of the statement, and for good reason. Siblings Jim and Donna Racine are the third generation in a family of Racines who have been auctioneers and appraisers in North East since 1904, when their grandfather Gene began holding auctions around Cecil County. After Gene passed in 1955, the family trade was turned over to Racine's father David, who in addition to serving as a County Commissioner, ran the business until 1994, when the Racines took over for their father.

“There used to be a farm next door, and sales happened right in the barn,” Jim said. “Dad built this current location in 1965, and it became the first building on the East Coast to be strictly used as an auction house. Up until that time, auction houses were converted warehouses and barns.”

By the time the Racines were old enough to follow their father, they were helping out the family business. They helped move merchandise and furniture from estate appraisal to auction to storeroom and into new homes. They worked in the kitchen of the auction house with their mother, and when Jim turned 12, he began ringing up sales while at the same time helping to arrange auctions and estate sales.

“One time, I think it was in 1969 when I was about nine years old, my father dropped me off at an auction house in Oxford to do some bidding for him,” Jim said. “He had to make some other calls to clients, so he gave me a number and I went around buying picture frames and old doors. He came back later to pick me up, but even then, he was allowing me the freedom to let me wander around to see what I could learn about the business.”

Throughout its rich history, the auction and appraisal industry has been known as a center of transience – where the generous turnover of arriving and departing merchandise, furniture, trinkets, heirlooms, household items and appliances is met by a coming and going clientele that includes movers, down-sizers, liquidators, those who are coordinating estate sales for the departed, and the forever curious.

Jim knows them all. Traveling everywhere between Baltimore and Philadelphia and all along Maryland's Eastern Shore, he specializes in personal property appraisals for estate purposes, insurance, and divorces for families negotiating the estate of a loved one.

Creating an itemized list of every item and its appraised value, Jim provides his clients with a guideline that gives a fair dollar value for each item he appraises. Often, he said, appraising is the art of convincing a family's that it's own definition of “value” may conflict with what an item sells for in the current marketplace.

“When I go to do an estate appraisal, my job is to identify the items of value in today's market, and a lot of times, an estate's assessment of value for a particular item is nowhere near its actual value,” he said. “For instance, the spinning wheel that sold for $400 back in the 1970s may be worth only about $25 today in its current market value. I am there to distinguish the current market value difference between a silver plate bowl and a sterling plate bowl. I let the estate know where the high-end merchandise is located within the estate, so they're not giving away the valuable heirloom in a yard sale.

“I'll occasionally have someone tell me that they paid $2,500 for an entertainment center back in 1985,” he said. “I'll tell them that was valuable back then, but now, people hang their TVs on the wall.”

Occasionally – as is the hope for any appraiser – Jim will stumble upon an absolute goldmine. While cleaning out a Maryland home during an estate sale a few years ago, he found a box in the corner of the home's basement. He opened the box, and there it was, a Chinese wine vessel dating back to 5000 B.C. It later fetched $60,000 at auction.

“The woman's husband was a consulate in Norway and a five-star general, and he entertained visitors from countries around the world, and a dignitary must have presented the man with this gift,” he said. “It's a treasure hunt. Some houses, you know what you're going to find – nothing. But other houses have an aura to them, sending me the thought that there may be something very valuable there. Wishful thinking may get me in trouble, but sometimes the biggest values we find can be found in a shack or a barn.”

In addition to appraisal services, Jim, who graduated from The Mendenhall School of Auctioneering in Highpoint, N.C., supervises auctions about twice a month on Saturdays throughout the year, the items of which come from consignment sales, moving arrangements, downsizing and clean outs.

Jim looks around the ever-changing inventory of the large showroom, where the business he has known all of his life reverberates with the steady flow of merchandise coming in, and merchandise moving out. Some days, they work long hours, and the necessary evil of moving furniture from storage to auction is losing its grandeur with each passing year, and yet, “There will always be a need for auction houses, because things need to find a home,” he said. “It may not bring in top dollars, but if you get three or four people bidding on the right item, it very well might.”

Racine Auctions is located on 2741 Biggs Highway, North East, Md. Call 410-658-9720. To learn more about Racine Auctions and upcoming auctions and events, visit

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].

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