Auctions are one of the most exciting ways to buy antiques. You will find almost every type of collectable and, if you are lucky, you might discover a unique bargain, which adds to the fun. By following this guide will help to getting the most out of an auction.
Before The Auction
Go To Auctions Regularly
It helps you to find out what you are interested in before beginning your collection.
Buy The Auction Catalogue
Familiarise yourself with the goods and the prices. This lists and numbers all the objects, or groups of objects, in the order in which they will be sold. These are known as 'lot' numbers. Pay careful attention to the exact wording of each entry. Read the explanations at the beginning of the catalogue, which tell you the significance of words such as 'attributed to', 'style of' and 'after'. This terminology tells you the valuer's opinion of the date and authenticity of a piece and affects its value.
Look At The Estimate
Each item in the catalogue should show the price the auction house valuer expects the object to sell for. If there is no estimate in the catalogue, it may be pinned up in the saleroom. If not, you can ask the auctioneer. Estimates should only ever be taken as a rough guide - they are never a guarantee of the final sale price.
Attend Saleroom Previews
These usually take place a few days before the sale. It is worth going as it is often difficult to view items properly on the morning of the sale. Every object should have been marked with its lot number, but objects are rarely displayed in numerical order. If something sounds fascinating in the catalogue and you can't find it at the preview, ask one of the saleroom staff to help you - it's easy to miss something that's been badly displayed.
Ask For A Condition Report
If you see something you are interested in, ask the auctioneer to write you a condition report. Most auction houses will provide more detailed reports on lots where possible. At larger auction houses you can ask to speak to the specialist in charge of the sale if you would like more information about a particular piece.
Find Out If You Need To Register
Before the sale, some salerooms will want you to fill in a form with your name, address and phone number; some issue you with a number to hold up should your bid be successful; at others you simply call out your name and fill in a form at the time.
Check The Auctioneer's Commission
Before you decide how much you want to spend, remember that most auction houses charge about 10 to 15 per cent plus VAT on the hammer price!
At The Auction
Set Yourself A Bidding Limit
Pay particular attention to the condition of the piece and take into account the potential cost of restoration - which can be considerable - before deciding on your bidding limit. Choose a top price and stick with it.
Work Out Your Timing
Some sales last for several hours, so if the lots which interest you are towards the end of the sale find out how many lots the auctioneer expects to sell per hour to work out roughly when your lot will be sold; but always remember to allow yourself a bit of extra time. If you can't get to the sale you can usually leave a bid with the commissions clerk, who will bid on your behalf.
Follow The Bidding
When the sale begins, the auctioneer will call out each lot number and will start the bidding at slightly below the lower estimate. As the people signal to him by waving or nodding he will call out their bids in regular sums or increments.
Attract Attention To Your Bid
In a packed saleroom don't be afraid to attract the auctioneer's attention: wave your catalogue or bidding card and call out if need be. However, if the bidding is rising rapidly, the auctioneer will usually only take bids from two people at a time. When one drops out he will look around the room for someone else to join in. If you are still within your limit that is your moment!
When It's All Over
The auctioneer will indicate that the bidding is finished by banging a small hammer, called a gavel, on the rostrum, and recording the sale and the name or number of the successful bidder.