Buying Art at AuctionsPosted by Agatha Cheng
There are all types of auctions, the most famous being those of Sotheby’s and Christies.
There are all types of auctions, the most famous being those of Sotheby’s and Christies. Other auctions include, auctions held in arenas, hotel ballrooms, homes, farms, stores, and so on. Not every auctioneer has the luxury of having his own auction house. Some only have a warehouse and an office, and others may not even have a warehouse. It does not matter which type of auction you use these rules apply to auctions of any size.
1) Do not be naïve enough to believe that auction houses only sell consigned items.
I would like to believe that most auction houses would prefer any potential customer to think that all of the items that the auctioneer has to be auctioned have been consigned to the auction house for that purpose. Therefore, my first rule for buying at auction is to not be naive enough to believe that all auction houses only sell consigned items all the time. In many instances, from large auctions down to a one or two man farm auction, you must understand that some of the items to be auctioned are indeed owned by the auctioneer.
Consequently, in these cases the auctioneer is selling for his or her own profit, and not a commission. No auctioneer is going to tell you that he owns a certain item but it is worthwhile remembering, as I will discuss later on.
The hardest part of an auctioneer's job is NOT the actual selling of items but finding of good quality items to sell. Fortunately, for the large auction houses many of these items become available to them because of their reputation. But even the largest of auction houses do not sit back on their laurels and wait for people to offer items for them to sell, they are continually looking out and advertising.
Other than on consignment, there are a number of ways that an auction house can acquire its merchandise to sell at auction, although the consignment method is the most preferred because, the auction house does not have to tie up its own money in merchandise. Some of these are to purchase a complete estate or estates, and there are various methods that an auction house will go about finding this type of merchandise. It is important to note that an auction house may purchase a complete estate for just one item, such as a rare painting. The balance of the estate may be sold at a lesser advertised or quality auction, or to people that sell items at flea markets etc.
Other methods are to acquire end runs, over runs, merchandise from bankrupt stores, or companies, excess, or unsold inventory from manufacturers, or stores, and so on.
2) Make sure you know where the articles you are interested in have come from.
In some cases this can be easy to tell that they have been brought in for the auction. For example, if you are attending an auction of the contents of a house, and contained within that auction are a few pieces of furniture or jewellery that you know that the owner either could not have afforded, or did not fit in with the rest of the merchandise, then it is a pretty good bet that they have been brought in for that particular auction, and most likely by the auctioneer. The simplest of reasons may be that the contents of the house were not enough to support having an auction at the house and therefore, the auctioneer brought in some of his own merchandise.
3) Be realistic.
If there are two or more complete dining room sets for sale at a house or farm auction, or if there are three antique back to the walls, hutches, or more items than the house of this type could, or would normally contain, then it is a very good bet that a lot of fillers have been brought in to sell at the auction. It is quite possibly done because, of the location of the auction. If the location is a prominent one then from the auctioneers point of view, why not?
4) If possible always attend the preview or send someone on your behalf.
That is assuming that there is a preview, which if there is not, you can always arrive early, and generally you will be allowed to inspect the merchandise being offered for sale at auction depending on the type of auction, and where it is being held etc. If it is a major auction, and you have registered, or purchased items from the auctioneer before, no doubt you will be on his mailing list, and you will have been sent a flier or a catalogue.
The earlier that you can inspect the item(s) that you are interested in the better because, this allows you more time to do your homework, or research. Remember, it is not always what you have to pay for the item but what the cost of restoration is afterwards. If you are returning the item to pristine condition it can exceed the purchase price.
5) Know as much as you can about the article you are interested in buying.
You must do your homework or research. Purchase the catalogue, and buy and use your reference books, also research price guides, and previous sales indexes. Obtain other opinions, talk to the auctioneer and so on. Obtain as much knowledge as you can about the item(s) before the auction.
When you have seen the items being offered for sale at the auction, it is extremely important that you look up in the catalogue the items that you are interested in and make note of the numbers, and any remarks about the item, such as damage, beside its notation in the catalogue. With any auction, you have to know that what you are looking at with a number on it is the same item which is described in the catalogue. It is vital that you read the disclaimers printed in the inside covers or elsewhere in the catalogue. It is very important.
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