Buying antiques at auction can be highly productive or downright disastrous depending on a multitude of factors ranging from a failure to carefully examine a piece before bidding , getting caught up in a frenetic bidding war, or just being unprepared to face the auction process. An auction is nothing like a retail store where everything is neatly arranged with legible price tags and the inventory is organized into easily replenished categories. Nor like an antique shop where the inventory is nicely displayed , well marked , in a low keyed environment , the shopkeeper is knowledgeable and might even be negotiable on price .
By contrast the auction is a high energy, fast paced, process to sell everything at the highest price in the shortest possible time frame and it is strictly a caveat emptor situation for the buyer. How to counteract the dynamics of an auction rests with the individual buyer and how they prepare for a tremendously competitive environment.
Preparation encompasses a myriad of things you must do. First off determine what you actually need to purchase and rank each in tems of priority and a specific budget for each item and don`t forget to add the buyer`s premium and sales tax into your calculation. Prepare a list complete with color specifications, three dimensional measurement limitations of the space the item will occupy , style, type of material , and period. Consider also if you have a vehicle suitable in size to accommodate , for example, a four drawer bureau that you will have to remove from the auction site the day you buy it or within a couple of days afterward.If you have a small car you will wind up paying an independent shipper a substantial delivery price. Also make sure the delivery service will bring the piece up to that second story guest bedroom at the top of the narrow curving staircase once they arrive or it might be offloaded to your driveway.
Previewing an auction is essential and it is done in two steps.Most auctions have on-line websites and produce printed brochures briefly describing each piece and you can determine from these sources what you might have an interest in to warrant going to the auction. Once you have determined your interest level get ready to travel to the auction in time for the preview. Plan on a minimum of two hours to actually examine very carefully each piece you like and also to review the rest of the auction to broaden your horizon for other things. Ready to go? Not unless you have a small high intensity LED flashlight , magnifying glass , a loupe, a small 12 foot measuring tape (with a stiff tape and large numerals) , digital camera , three by five inch spiral bound notebook and two pencils or ball point pen (s). Lighting at most auction houses and shows is terrible , you will need that flashlight to look at artwork, inside bureaus once you have pulled out the drawers to see if the interior is missing parts. Record in the notebook the item number,a short description of the piece, if the auctioneer lists their estimate of the selling range include that range, notes on condition and where it ranks in your overall priority list of desired items. It helps to also describe where the piece is in the hall so you can find it quickly for re-examination.
Previewing the auction is where you must apportion your time predominately to the items you have already identified of being of interest.Focus on them immediately and then look at the rest of the offerings if sufficient time is left. Once you have your notes entered into your notebook sit down somewhere and decide what you have the most interest in and the maximum amount you are willing to pay (including buyer`premium , shipping , estimated cost of repairing or restoration and sales tax) for each item. While at the preview take notice of the people there. Some will be collectors of just one thing ie Civil War artifacts. That is their total focus and they know the prices and values of their interests down to a penny. Should you as a relative newcomer to the auction circuit have the same interest be very cautious of trying to outbid him/her. Better to watch them at several auctions to see how they bid and what they are willing to pay. Then there are the general dealers who are buying inventory for re-sale .Usually they are careful buyers not willing to go beyond a certain dollar amount. Watch for them at the auction .If you can outbid them by one increment you can be reasonably sure you made a good buy . The retail buyer is usually looking for household accouterments ranging from rugs, furniture, artwork, glassware and anything used for decorative purposes. Auctioneers love them because they see an item,decide they want it, and will pay virtually anything to get it.In either of these last two scenarios be wary of being trapped into a bidding war, lose your cool and exceed your predetermed bidding limit , and you will run up your cost dramatically . If you decide to attend the auction try to find a seat directly in front of the auctioneer preferable on an aisle seat. We like to sit in the back row so we can watch who we are bidding against and capture their body language as they bid or kibbutz with their seatmates during the bidding.
Another way to buy at auction is not to attend the auction! After doing all of the above examinations and calculations during the preview then leave a bid in the amount you are willing pay. For some this is an efficient use of time and a good way to control expenditures and avoid the hype and possible bidding frenzy that can occur. Then there is the time factor. For example , at a given auction there may be 150 lots of books ( or jewelry, coins, dolls, etc.etc. ) that will go up for bid. You will have to sit through the sale of those items to see the items you are interested in that are also spread throughout the auction. Is it worth your time to do that? If you enjoy the action of an auction , the drama, dynamics and social aspect by all means attend it.
On- line bidding or telephone bidding are not procedures that we are familiar with.It is becoming more and more popular ; but it is distracting , extends the time of the bid and agitates the audience who have chosen to attend the event. Auctioneers should seek a better way to accommodate these intrusive methods.