If the price of a two-digit license tag is any indication, Delaware's economy is improving. Before auctioneer Butch Emmert picked up Delaware tag No. 67 to start the bidding Sunday at Rehoboth's convention center, he said he would be shocked if the tag didn't bring at least $120,000. He said 67 was the lowest-digit tag sold in several years.
When he asked for an opening bid of $300,000, then went steadily down looking for an opener, the crowd of several hundred looked around nervously. But when Emmert finally picked up an opening bid of $100,000, it didn't look like he had to worry about being shocked. Ten minutes later, he brought the gavel down and declared $170,000 the high bid.
Ed Troise of Lewes outlasted an unidentified bidder working via telephone through local Realtor Russell Stucki. When Stucki upped Troise's bid of $165,000 to $166,500, Troise went into aggressive mode. He told Herbie Kenton - helping Emmert - to raise the bid to $170,000. That did the trick. Stucki signaled “no more.”
“I went to $170,000 to scare him off,” said Troice in an interview. “I bought a farm that way one time too.”
Troise said he will probably place the tag on a 1975 Rolls Royce that he bought new more than a quarter century ago. “Or I may put it on a 2006 Cadillac XLR that I have. I haven't decided yet.”
Troise said he read about the tag in a Cape Gazette article and decided then he wanted it for one of the two cars.
A builder by trade, Troise has been involved with commercial and government contract projects for several decades. "I've built facilities on military bases all over the Eastern Seaboard," he said, "all the way from Virginia north to Limestone, Maine." He said at one point he spent 20 years on projects at Dover Air Force Base, the most recent being hangars for C5As and similar aircraft. He has had a house in Lewes for the past 30 years.
"I remember years ago when I was living in Dover - the late '60s and early '70s - when people were offering me three-digit tags all day long for $500. I just walked away from them. And then when I saw that No. 9 tag go for $700,000 or something like that; I thought the guy was crazy. But one man's treasure is another man's poison."
Though he didn't say it directly, Troise clearly thought the tag was a good buy. "I was prepared to take the bidding to $200,000," he said. “Frankly, I expected it to bring more."
Before he started the bidding, Emmert said he thought anyone who bought the tag for under $200,000 would be making a wise investment. “Where would you rather have your money - in a tag like this or in a bank account getting a quarter of a percent interest?”
The sale of No. 67 came at about 3 p.m. during an all-day auction at Rehoboth Beach Convention Center. Emmert said bidding had been strong all day long. Several other four-digit and specialty tags brought winning bids in the thousands of dollars, and people were placing competing bids on everything from artwork and furniture to shotguns, silver dollars and china. A 1993 Lexus coupe with 50,000 or so miles brought a high bid of $7,000, though that number didn't meet the reserve ;rice and was not sold.
"It's been a great sale," said Emmert."'I think the economy is definitely turning a corner."