A look at the design, market and legacy of Victorian pottery

Monday, October 26, 2015

Buying at Auction

One of the most convenient ways of adding to your antique collection is to buy at auction. Many people have a reluctance to buy at auction that they wouldn't have when buying from a dealer. We can understand this fear having had a bad experience ourself at the first auction we attended but it really doesn't need to be an intimidating experience if you prepare in advance.

Choosing a venue for buying is a relatively easy one. Online auctions are a bit of a gamble because you can't examine the merchandise you are buying. Personally speaking we have never had the problem of purchasing an item that had been misrepresented online but we know many others who have. When it comes to condition you're at the mercy of the auctioneer who places the listing. The advantage to online buying is that it offers an opportunity for purchasing items you may not see elseware. Advertised auctions from reputable auction houses are probably the most common and most reliable way of buying both locally and from a distance at auction. A well run auction house will usually allow you to place your bids in person, online, by phone or by proxy.

Most auctioneers have both general sales and specialty auctions. General sales are pretty much a hit-or-miss proposition that require a great deal of patience. There may be only one or two item you wish to buy in a larger auction of hundreds of lots. Until the lot you wish to bid on comes up you have a long wait ahead of you. The advantage to buying at a general sale is that it is where you are likely to buy most economically. Things will often sell far below what you could expect to pay a dealer.
Specialty auctions bring together a large number of similar pieces for buyers with similar interests. This offers you an opportunity to choose from many objects to bid on. You pay for this privilege however in the final price you pay. Specialty auctions are engineered with the intention of increasing competition among multiple buyers. The chance of getting a bargain at a specialty auction is pretty much nil. Some people make a living by buying at general auctions where they can get a bargain and reselling at specialty auctions to receive maximum profit from their items. This alone will tell you how large the gap in price can be between the two types of auctions. We can't tell you how many times we've lost bids at a general auction only to see the same item sell in a specialty auction several months later at many times what the winning bidder originally paid for it. If you buy at a specialty auction expect to pay retail or above retail.

Once you've found the auction you wish to buy from, knowledge about the items which you are buying becomes paramount. All auctions have previews that allow you to examine the merchandise before buying. This is crucial because most auctions are final sales. You should examine the merchandise carefully for any signs of damage or repair. If you're a novice you may want to invest in a pocket black light which makes obvious any repair that may have been done to the item. After examining merchandise that you are interested in buying you need to do your homework. Fortunately with the Internet there are plenty of venues for researching what comparable items have sold for in the past. No one wants to over pay for something they can buy elseware for a fraction of the price. If you cannot attend a preview in person many large auction houses have a service that allow you to have a service person at the auction house examine the merchandise for you. To do this you need to plan well in advance of the auction to allow the house time to do the research for you.

When attending an auction for the first time assure that you will be allowed to buy by bringing cash. When you first register with an auction they will assign you a buyers number but not before they are convinced you can pay for your purchases. Not all auctions take checks or credit cards. Some will take checks but will require a letter of credit from your bank. Cash assures that you will be able to pay for the item you've purchased regardless of the venue. Once you've developed a history with an auction house they may be less demanding and accept other forms of payment in lieu of cash.

Another thing you need to plan for in advance is a way to bring your purchases home. Auction houses are not run like retail establishments. They offer no packaging of their own. If you are buying online or by phone you will need to arrange for someone to ship you your purchases. Some auction houses will offer to ship the merchandise to you at an extravagant price. You are better off contracting with a local shipping service to ship the items instead. Regardless, the cost will be a substantial one, and something you need to account for in your budget. If you are attending the auction in person bring containers and wrapping material to get your items home safely.

Once you're at the auction you need to establish a buying strategy for the items you are going to bid on. It is very important to establish a monetary cut off level for the lots you want. This will prevent you from developing the dreaded "auction fever" and getting carried away in the moment. If you set a price and stick to it you will do just fine. 

Bidding is done by raising your auctioneer issued bidder's number when your lot comes up for purchase. Forget all the movies you've seen about people inadvertently buying something at an auction by scratching their nose. I doesn't work that way in the real world. You need to make sure the auctioneer knows you're interested in buying by flashing your bid number and having them acknowledge it. If you win your bid the registrar will record your bidder number to guarantee you get your item.

All auction houses add a buyers fee to the final price of your purchase. This percentage can run anywhere from 15% to 30% depending on the auction house. You need to take this into account when planning your purchases. Once you've won your item you need to arrange for immediate payment through the registrar for your purchases. When payment is made you will be presented with an invoice to present to the auction assistant who will retrieve your items for you. You can then arrange to take your items home or have them shipped.

If you go into an auction prepared it will be no more intimidating than buying through any other medium and you will be rewarded with treasures you could never acquire otherwise.