The following memories are quotes from “Reminiscences of Alfred D. Guion, written in 1960 while he was on a four-months “around the world” freighter trip.
Also about this time I left the Smelting Company and took another stenographic job at a higher salary with the Estate of Collis P. Huntington, one of the country’s great railroad builders. His adopted son, Archer M. Huntington, also a millionaire, used the office for his headquarters. One day I was called into the manager’s private office and told that Archer M. wanted me to go down that morning to the American Art Gallery’s auction sale and purchase, in my own name, a set of fine Sheraton chairs which were to be put up for sale, and for which purpose he gave me a thousand dollars in cash. I had never had as much money as this in my possession nor indeed had I ever attended so glamorous an auction sale and felt the responsibility deeply. I asked the office manager what I should do if the bidding should go higher but all he would say was: “You are to buy the furniture.” I was still troubled in mind, and Mr. Archer having just come in, I decided in spite of the fact he was a very pompous individual not in the habit of discussing his business with clerks and in fact treating me and all my fellow employees as dirt beneath his feet, that I would do the unheard-of thing and approach him direct. I told him I had been given a thousand dollars to buy the chairs and asked what I should do if I had to bid higher, a fatal error. He glared at me and angrily replied, “Buy the furniture.” And that was that.
On the way down to the auction gallery I decided to play it cagily and, as he didn’t want his name to appear in the transaction, I decided to let the low bidders and dealers, if there were any (there were), starte and when they had dropped out come in when there would be less competition.
When the set was put up for bids I followed this plan and joined in when it reached about $500.00. Soon just a lady and myself were the sole bidders and every time one of us raised the amount by fifty dollars the other would immediately counter with another fifty. We see-sawed back and forth until, with a firm voice and nonchalant air (I hope) but was dry mouth and butterflies in my stomach, I boldly said one thousand dollars and she promptly said “one thousand, fifty”. I was over my head already and might as well sink as swim so I came right back with eleven hundred dollars. She glared at me, threw up her hands and quit. “Sold” said the auctioneer, “name please”. After the sale was over I went up to the desk, lay down my thousand dollars in bills and told the cashier I’d send the balance later, which was all right with him. As instructed, I gave him Mr. Huntington’s Fifth Avenue address where the chairs were to be delivered and returned to the office. When I reported the price I had had to bid the office manager seemed not a bit concerned and I went back to my routine office work.
The following Saturday in my pay envelope was an additional two weeks salary “in advance” accompanied with a little note reading, “Mr. Huntington thinks you would do better elsewhere.” I asked the manager the reason for my dismissal, pointing out I had never before been fired from a job, and while I didn’t doubt I could find other employment, it would help me if I knew what I had done wrong in this case to guard against making the same mistake again. “Mr. Huntington thinks you would do better elsewhere” was the only answer I could get and to this day I don’t know why I was fired.
The N.Y. Times on the following day under “Auction News” contained an item which read: “Spirited bidding on a set of Sheraton furniture took place between Mr. A.D. Guion and Mrs. Vanderbilt.”
On Saturday, John Jackson Lewis arrives in San Francisco and continues the story of his Voyage to California in 1851.
On Sunday, I will continue the series on My Ancestors with an entry about grandpa, Alfred D. Guion.