A step by step guide to buying and bidding at an auction

When should I buy?

if your need for the item is not immediate, it is worthwhile doing some research on the market. By using past auction results (there are many links on this site) you can estimate if prices realised at auctions are going up or down, you can then use your judgement in deciding when to buy.

Notes about viewing

All auction house reserve time(s) for viewing, most of these times are posted on this website. Usually the viewing times are a few days before hand and an hour or two prior to the auction starting. It is best to view in the days before hand as the last minute viewing tends to be crowded and you may not have the time or opportunity to exam the item you are interested in. There is nothing worse than wishing to look at an item and by the time your turn gets around the auction has started. A very few auction houses will let you view whilst the auction is in progress, and some let you make an appointment to view under special circumstances.

Before viewing it is wise to mark the items in the auction catalogue that you wish to view. And if possible do some research on prices realised for that item as well as the condition and age of the items sold at previous sales This is so when you look at your item at the viewing you can better judge what the item is worth. Look carefully at the item, look inside, turn it over etc. When you have judged what price you are willing to pay for the item put a note on the catalogue entry what you wish to pay. Keep this information close to you. I will state this again later, however it is very important, STICK TO YOUR PRICE WHEN BIDDING. The biggest mistake new bidders make (and sometimes seasoned professionals) is go over that price in a bidding war. Even if you win the item, you are still going to be the loser.

Where items are behind a counter some auction houses will give you a slip of paper where you can write down the lot numbers you wish to view, this is so they can track who has viewed the item and also prepare the next item for you to view. Most auction house have CCTV, if an item goes missing they will review footage of those that looked at that item. and take any appropriate action if necessary.

I have found that by looking very carefully at an item you might find a hidden flaw, or perhaps something that indicates a higher value than you had anticipated.
Another common mistake bidders make when viewing is to look at an item that they have not done research on and then bid on it. If you do see something interesting like this, go home and do some research and if possible, return to the auction to check condition and details again.

If the item is a collection of items then most auction houses will not guarantee authenticity. Sometimes on single items the auction house will have doubts on its authenticity and add the phrase 'sold as seen' on the auction catalogue description. You can ask the auctioneer questions and check the provenance of the collection to assist you on these collections. The auctioneer can only express an opinion as to its authenticity, and will assist you as best as he can with provenance.

If you see something that you particularly like, ask the auctioneer if the consignee has other items in the auction, often they will be as good and you may have missed them off your list of items to look at. This is a question that is not often asked, it will lead you to a greater experience, and perhaps greater rewards.

Choosing your auction house

If you want a rare or high end items a specialist auction house will likely have then. For example, an Auction house that only sells Art will likely as not sell high end art by well known artists. Both the commission and the reserves will be on the high side. If you go to a general auction house and look for the same you will have only a limited selection, however you may be bidding against less knowledgeable bidders and pay less commission. The more general the auction house the more general their valuers knowledge is and the more likely you are to pick up a bargain. Having said that a specialist auction house is very likely to spot a fake. People who know they have a good forgery will attempt to enter them into a general auction house and hope to find a punter that will take a risk, even though the auctioneer has put the words 'sold as seen' in the description. Specialist auction houses also have experts on staff and will offer guidance on buying, how to store, care and maintain your purchase and guide you on how to build your collection. Almost all specialist auction houses will look for items that will enhance their existing customers collections and thus assist them in growing a rewarding and worthwhile collection.

You could almost say, general auction houses are for bargain hunters, specialist auction houses are for collectors.

Action, lights, camera. Time for the auction

As soon as you enter the auction house you will need to register at the reception, they will verify your identity, go through the admin process, take any payments due (for instance entry fee) and give you a bidding number and paddle. The paddle is the piece of paper, wood, etc, with your bidding number on. This is what you will hold up if you have won an item to show the auctioneer your identity. You may also hold it up as a means of indicating you are bidding.

Make sure you have your catalog with you, there you will have your notes on what price to bid up to. Auctions typically call 75 to 150 lots per hour. If your lot is not due to come up for another 100 lots and you decide to go have a break, be careful how long you are gone for, sometimes a lot of items don't sell and suddenly in fifteen minutes your item is up for bidding. Some auction house have a display in their canteen of what lot number is being bid on, which is of a great assistance.

This is the time for butterflies in your stomach, that cool calm and collected person who entered the auction house is now full of anticipation when their lot number comes up. This is where I say it again. STICK TO THE PRICE YOU DECIDED ON WHEN VIEWING. The item will not have suddenly got better since you last saw it. If you see an obviously experienced bidder (maybe an antique dealer you have seen) bid above you, do not assume they know more than you, they may be leading you on or you may know more than them. It is not unknown for big time dealers to lead a bidder on to drain them of cash before the 'big' item comes up.

Another common mistake is bidding on something because 'you found it'. You may have been to the viewing and seen an item with a reserve of, say, £20, but on examination you feel it is worth ten times that. The excitement builds up when your 'find' comes up for bidding. Surprise, surprise! Someone else thought it worth a lot of money as well. And that is when you abandon caution to the wind, you found it, it belongs to you, I will win it! Well, if you like burning money, it should belong to you.

There is another dilemma bidders run into. They have marked x number of items to bid on, which add up amount to greater than their available funds. What do you do then? Adjust the number of items to fit into your budget? It is uncommon for a person to win every item they want in an auction, and if they are on a budget do they bid until they run out of money? What if the item you really want is the last item in the auction, but you don't want to spend all your money on the lesser items before you get to the big item at the end. If you lose the on the big item and your brought none of the lesser items do you walk away empty handed? Well yes, you do. Much as you don't want to. If you wanted that big item and you got consolation prizes on the way their you will kick yourself if the big item went for a bargain price and you had not money to spend on it. As an experienced dealer I can tell you that the end of the auction is where the bargains will be found, for precisely this reason. That, and the fact that few want to wait around a few hours for the end of the auction.

In other words, if the auction has pretty much the same thing resist bidding on the first items in an auction. the room will be crowded and pockets will be full. Go for the stuff at the end of the auction, that is where you will get the bargains.

And lastly, another common mistake. You have travelled to a viewing and then made the effort to travel to the auction, the bidding is going against you. You bid on something just so you don't come home empty handed. Don't, you can use that money for the next auction, which may be the land of opportunity and you now have more funds to go for what you want.

You can always bid on line. But never ever bid on line without viewing an item first, that will be the road to ruin. That small chip mentioned in the catalogue maybe a bit larger than you had imagined. Bidding on line does not come free, there is an additional cost of the on line commission, somewhere between an additional 3-6% and then the cost of shipping the item to you. Many auction houses do not provide shipping and you will be shocked how much the local shipper wants to charge you for shipping. It is often a lot more than the train fare or cost of petrol. It is a good idea to getting a shipping quote before you bid and factor to that into the price you are willing to bid, if you are bidding on line. A helpful shipping company will look up the lot number and give you an approximate price. It could be different if the item is heavier or more fragile than the shipper assumed, but at least you have an indication of what to factor in.

Action, lights, camera. Time for the auction

As soon as you enter the auction house you will need to register at the reception, they will verify your identity, go through the admin process, take any payments due (for instance entry fee) and give you a bidding number and paddle. The paddle is the piece of paper, wood, etc, with your bidding number on. This is what you will hold up if you have won an item to show the auctioneer your identity. You may also hold it up as a means of indicating you are bidding.

Make sure you have your catalog with you, there you will have your notes on what price to bid up to. Auctions typically call 75 to 150 lots per hour. If your lot is not due to come up for another 100 lots and you decide to go have a break, be careful how long you are gone for, sometimes a lot of items don't sell and suddenly in fifteen minutes your item is up for bidding. Some auction house have a display in their canteen of what lot number is being bid on, which is of a great assistance.

This is the time for butterflies in your stomach, that cool calm and collected person who entered the auction house is now full of anticipation when their lot number comes up. This is where I say it again. STICK TO THE PRICE YOU DECIDED ON WHEN VIEWING. The item will not have suddenly got better since you last saw it. If you see an obviously experienced bidder (maybe an antique dealer you have seen) bid above you, do not assume they know more than you, they may be leading you on or you may know more than them. It is not unknown for big time dealers to lead a bidder on to drain them of cash before the 'big' item comes up.

Another common mistake is bidding on something because 'you found it'. You may have been to the viewing and seen an item with a reserve of, say, £20, but on examination you feel it is worth ten times that. The excitement builds up when your 'find' comes up for bidding. Surprise, surprise! Someone else thought it worth a lot of money as well. And that is when you abandon caution to the wind, you found it, it belongs to you, I will win it! Well, if you like burning money, it should belong to you.

There is another dilemma bidders run into. They have marked x number of items to bid on, which add up amount to greater than their available funds. What do you do then? Adjust the number of items to fit into your budget? It is uncommon for a person to win every item they want in an auction, and if they are on a budget do they bid until they run out of money? What if the item you really want is the last item in the auction, but you don't want to spend all your money on the lesser items before you get to the big item at the end. If you lose the on the big item and your brought none of the lesser items do you walk away empty handed? Well yes, you do. Much as you don't want to. If you wanted that big item and you got consolation prizes on the way their you will kick yourself if the big item went for a bargain price and you had not money to spend on it. As an experienced dealer I can tell you that the end of the auction is where the bargains will be found, for precisely this reason. That, and the fact that few want to wait around a few hours for the end of the auction.

In other words, if the auction has pretty much the same thing resist bidding on the first items in an auction. the room will be crowded and pockets will be full. Go for the stuff at the end of the auction, that is where you will get the bargains.

And lastly, another common mistake. You have travelled to a viewing and then made the effort to travel to the auction, the bidding is going against you. You bid on something just so you don't come home empty handed. Don't, you can use that money for the next auction, which may be the land of opportunity and you now have more funds to go for what you want.

You can always bid on line. But never ever bid on line without viewing an item first, that will be the road to ruin. That small chip mentioned in the catalogue maybe a bit larger than you had imagined. Bidding on line does not come free, there is an additional cost of the on line commission, somewhere between an additional 3-6% and then the cost of shipping the item to you. Many auction houses do not provide shipping and you will be shocked how much the local shipper wants to charge you for shipping. It is often a lot more than the train fare or cost of petrol. It is a good idea to getting a shipping quote before you bid and factor to that into the price you are willing to bid, if you are bidding on line. A helpful shipping company will look up the lot number and give you an approximate price. It could be different if the item is heavier or more fragile than the shipper assumed, but at least you have an indication of what to factor in.