Home Editor's Choice Antiques and collectibles: How to bid at an auction

Antiques and collectibles: How to bid at an auction

Antiques and collectibles: How to bid at an auction

A large auction house, like Sotheby’s, Christie’s or Bonham’s, can be an intimidating place for the first-time visitor, especially those who are worried that a mistimed sneeze or cough might result in the accidental, multi-million purchase of an unwanted Picasso or antique chest of drawers. But if you love eBay and garage sales and take an interest in art, antiques and collectibles, then don’t be afraid to head along to your nearest auction house just to watch and learn how things take place. And then, when you do spot the lot of your dreams, remember these simple rules for bidding.

Register with the auction house

In order to place a bid at a live auction, you first need to give your details to the auction house. They will then give you a card with a number on, which you can use for bidding. Raising the card gives a clear signal to the auctioneer, and rest assured, only a clear signal will result in a bid being placed.

Attend the viewing days

In the week before an auction, the auction house will hold viewing days to allow prospective buyers a chance to view the goods being sold. This is a great opportunity for you to decide which items you like and how much they are worth to you. And don’t be afraid to handle the goods. An item’s worth is often dependent on whether it has any little faults or cracks, so be sure to pick up that Art Deco vase and examine it from every angle.

Buying at Auction

Set your upper price.

If you find an item you like, then check the guide price in the auction catalogue or online at the auction house’s website. This will give you an estimate of how much the auction house expects the item to sell for. If the price suits you, then choose how much above that figure you would be willing to go before attending the auction. It is easy to get carried away in the heat of the moment and end up bidding far more than an item is really worth, but a strict upper limit set in the cold light of day prevents all that.

And when setting your limit, remember to factor in the auction house’s commission. The price you pay might be as much as 20% more than the price you bid, so check the commission terms beforehand to prevent any nasty shocks later.

Buyer Beware

Auction houses don’t give refunds for faulty goods – you are paying for what you see – and that makes it all the more important to make sure you attend the viewing days and have a chance to examine the goods up close. If that Clarice Cliff plate has a hairline fracture, it’s your job to find it – and not the auctioneers!

Collecting Antiques

Only buy items you love.

Some people might view auctions as a way of making money. By buying items cheap and then selling them at a higher price, there’s a chance to make a tidy profit, but it can be a risky strategy. That’s why it’s always wise to buy items that you genuinely love, because then even if they fall in value you will still have something to treasure forever.

How to attend an Auction

Buying antiques, collectibles and home furnishings at auction can be a great way to obtain a real bargain and find unique items you cant buy new in the shops. Auctions are wonderful, interesting, exciting and profitable to attend. Done well the auction can be entertaining, sociable and a source of learning and a little advance preparation will help to ensure that you do not waste your time and money.

When and Where is the Auction

Real life auctions are normally advertised in the local paper but I find that the Internet is the best way to find where and when an auction is running. Use your favourite search engine and type in your town name and auction and you will get a list of auction houses nearby. A quick phone call to the auction house before travelling will help check the details of the time and venue

Is there a catalogue to be viewed in advance

Catalogues can often be found on the auction houses website few days in advance of the sale. This will help establish if they are selling items of interest. Some catalogues have estimated prices and pictures some are just text lists. If possible print off a copy of the catalogue as over a year this can save a considerable amount of money as catalogues can be quite expensive.

What time is viewing and is it worth a separate trip

Auctions can normally be viewed a few days in advance of the sale as well as in the morning of the sale itself. If the sale is large, there are lots of things of interest and it is not too far away then viewing on a day prior to the sale itself is well worthwhile. Close to the auction start there can be lots of other viewers who get in the way and slow viewing down this means that there may not be sufficient time to view the lots as the auction will start more or less on time. This piece of advice particularly applies to small items and jewellery which are kept under glass and you need the assistance of a porter to view. Additionally you will see items you wish to come home and research further.

How do I get to the auction house and what facilities do they have

The auction will start on time and auction houses can be tucked away in city back streets with limited parking facilities. You can waste precious time on the morning of the sale looking for parking as every other bidder will also want a space. This is competition and the early bird who is well prepared has an advantage. Also check what the refreshment facilities are, it can be a very long day if you cant even get a cup of tea and you may want to take you own.

Registration and Payment

Most auction houses require registration and many require that you present identification in advance of bidding. Check this out before the auction starts. Its also sensible to find out the acceptable payment types. Many auction houses are charging a premium for paying by credit card so best be prepared to pay by debit card or cash.

This type of preparation for attending an auction does take a bit of thought and time but following just one or two of the suggestions will help attending the auction a better experience