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Auction Biddinf for the Intelligent Antique Collector
AUCTION BIDDING FOR THE
a u c t i o nANDa p p r a i s e .com
If you love collecting antiques, then you absolutely must consider buying at auctions.
However, for those not familiar with how auctions work, you need to know a few
things before you start bidding. Understanding what to expect will put you in a
great position to add wonderful pieces to your collection. Armed with some good
information will also help you get the best deals.
This article is intended to help antique collectors who are new to auctions.
Topics covered include:
• Before the Auction Event
• Auction Previews
• Determining Your Bidding Strategy
• Before Bidding Begins on Auction Day
• Bidding Against Dealers
• Bidding during the Auction
• After You Place a Winning Bid
To make the most of an antique auction, you need to find out as much as possible
about the event prior to attending. For example, the term “antique” covers a broad
range of items. If you’re collecting Victorian furniture, you probably won’t be
interested in an auction offering only vintage jewelry.
When you get a feel for what’s being auctioned, you can decide whether you want
to attend. You can gather most of the information about a particular auction from
the auction house’s website.
If the items being offered are right up your alley, then you can start to research
values. Using online resources is the quickest and easiest way to learn about items.
However, you can also purchase books or visit your local library for information.
It’s a good idea to print references and jot down your notes. Then, put all your
reference materials in a notebook you can take with you to the auction preview and
Almost all antique auctions will offer a preview a few days prior to the live event and
usually right before bidding begins on auction day. Attending a preview is a must-do
for anybody who wants to get the best deals.
Live auction events are fast-paced and it’s difficult even for seasoned bidders to
miss something. And, all auction items are sold as-is – if you’re the winning bidder,
the item is yours for better or worse. So, it’s not a good idea to bid on items you’re
seeing for the first time at the actual auction event.
During a preview, you have an opportunity to closely examine items of interest.
You can inspect antiques for flaws like scratches, cracks, chips, or dings. Any
imperfections will affect value. And you need to know everything you can about an
item before you can determine its true market value.
You also want to look for manufacturer marks and other clues about the item’s
background. Make sure you bring along a magnifying glass, jeweler’s loupe, tape
measure and other tools to help you thoroughly evaluate an item.
Also, don’t forget to look through box lots. Lots contain several items the auction
house groups together because they may not sell for much if sold separately.
However, there’s always a chance you can find a treasure tucked away in one of
those lot boxes, so look carefully.
Last, make sure you take notes on the items you’re interested in. You can then do
further research after the preview but before the live auction. Jot down all the things
you noticed about the item’s condition. Take some digital photos, if possible,
for further reference. All this information is needed to develop a sound bidding
strategy. You may also be able to register for the auction and get your bidder
number during the preview.
If you’ve done a good job during and after the preview, you know what you want to
bid on and have researched values. Your goal is to get a good deal, so you want to
set a target bid below the average market price.
You also need to factor in the buyer’s premium. To cover the auction house’s cost
of managing the auction, typically a 15% buyer’s premium is added to the final
bid amount. So, determine the most you would be willing to pay for an item, then
deduct 15%. Note that some auction firms do not collect buyer’s premiums. Do the
same with any state or local taxes that may apply. The total amount you’re willing
to pay less the buyer’s premium and any taxes should be your maximum bid. Make
sure you jot down your maximum bid figures for each item in your notebook.
Finally, you need to understand “reserve prices.” In some situations, the owners
of items consigned to auction houses will require a minimum price for the item to
be sold. This minimum is called the “reserve.” If the bids placed for an item don’t
exceed the reserve price, the item will not be sold. The auction house may or may
not inform bidders about the reserve price.
BEFORE BIDDING BEGINS
the Day of the
If you haven’t previously registered for the auction event, you’ll need to do so on
auction day. So, make sure to arrive early in case you have to wait in line to register
and get a bidder number.
Typically, registration requires you provide a driver’s license along with another form
of identification, a resale certificate if you are tax exempt and a credit card.
You may be required to place a deposit for bidding at auction, so be prepared. If
you win any items, the deposit will be applied to the amount owed. If you don’t
buy anything, your deposit is refunded. You should be aware of the auction terms
after reviewing the auction company’s website.
After you’ve registered, secure a chair as close to the auctioneer as possible. You
want to make sure you hear everything he or she says clearly. Before the auction
starts, the auctioneer will usually make some announcements explaining how the
auction will work. And, you want to make sure the auctioneer can acknowledge
you easily when you bid.
Because auctions are super venues for antique sales, you’ll find dealers in regular
attendance. But don’t let this intimidate you! When dealers are bidding, you know
the items have value for resale.
Also, dealers need to profit from reselling. So, their maximum bid may be much
lower than yours. If you’re willing to spend a little more, you have a good chance of
placing the winning bid. As a collector instead of a dealer, you’re actually in a much
better position to win quality items.
If this is your first antique auction, you may want to watch the action for a short time
so you get the hang of things. The auctioneer speaks very fast and you have to get
used to the cadence. In fact, it’s not uncommon for over 100 items to be auctioned
In addition, you’ll want to know the bid increments. Are bids moving up by $1.00,
$5.00 or $10.00, for example? You need to pay close attention so you don’t
exceed your maximum bid or miss out on something you really wanted.
It’s important to remember you can’t un-do a bid. If you didn’t mean to place a bid,
you’re still obligated to buy an item if you’re the highest bidder.
When you place a bid, make sure you hold your bidder number high so the
auctioneer sees it. You need to be sure your bids get noticed. The winning bid is
the highest bid that’s acknowledged by the auctioneer.
All winning bids must be paid for before you leave the auction. When you initially
visited the auction company’s website, you should have reviewed the check-out
procedures. If an item is large, the auction company may accommodate a pick-up
a few days after the auction. But in many cases, you must pay and remove the item
after you place the winning bid.
At the end of the auction or when you’re ready to leave, you finalize your winning
bids at the cashier. You will be given a detailed list of your purchases, the buyer’s
premium, any applicable taxes and the total amount due.
Here’s a list of what you need to remember about successfully bidding at antique
• Find antique auction schedules from auction company websites, newspapers
and other sources.
• Review the auction company’s terms for participation and event procedures.
• Thoroughly inspect the condition of all items you’re interested in – don’t skip
• Make notes on lot numbers, item condition and other references before the
• If possible, take digital photos of items you want to bid on.
• Research current market values for items of interest.
• Determine your maximum bid for each item by subtracting buyer’s premiums
and taxes from the amount you’re willing to pay.
• Register for a bidder’s number, preferably before auction day.
• Arrive early on auction day and secure a seat in close proximity to the
• Get a feel for the auction process before placing your first bid.
• When ready to bid, raise your bidder’s number prominently so the auctioneer
can acknowledge your bid.
• Stay disciplined and don’t let the bidding excitement cause you to exceed
your maximum bid amount.
• Don’t be intimidated by antique dealers. Because they resell for profit, their
bids will often be much lower than a collector’s.
Auctions can be a fun and rewarding adventure for the antique collector. You
can find great inventories of items. And, you can get great deals on these items
if you know what you’re doing. All it takes is a little time and effort to learn the
AUTHOR DEB WEIDENHAMER
Deb Weidenhamer is President of Auctions Systems Auctioneers & Appraisers, Inc.,
based in Phoenix, Arizona. They specialize in auctions and professional appraisals. Visit us
at www.auctionANDappraise.com or call 800-801-8880 for more information about an