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There are several important factors to take into account when buying antiques at an auction. You are potentially investing a substantial amount of money in antiques when you buy, and so plenty of preparation and buying know how are essential to have.
The first thing a potential buyer of antiques should do is plenty of research. This means looking in the appropriate magazines for advertisements of auctions of the sort of thing you are looking for. Then, go to the preview. The preview is a time set aside prior to the auction, when you can go and inspect the piece you are interested in for yourself. Do not be afraid to touch the piece, you may glean some valuable information from doing so. For example, if it is a piece of furniture you can get a feel for the ‘finish’ by rubbing your hand along it. Another excellent idea when viewing furniture is to look at the underneath of it for any tell tale signs of poor restoration, such as odd blocks of wood. Other smaller antiques may require the use of a magnifying glass to look for distinguishing marks. Try and get as much information as you possibly can from the viewing.
The next thing you should do is obtain a condition report of the piece from the salesroom manager. This is standard practise, where you will be given a written report of the piece describing it, giving it a date of origin, explaining any faults that the piece may have, and a valuation of it by an expert.
Armed with this knowledge, plus your own findings at the preview you are now ready to go to the auction. On the day of the auction, make sure you arrive early, so that you can get a feel for the whole place. Then you must register to bid for the item that you have planned for. Once you have registered you will be given a paddle with which to bid. Before you do so, you may wish to watch another item being auctioned, so that you have an idea on the competition.
A good way of gauging the levels of competition is by comparing the eventual sale price of an item, to its reserve price. The reserve price is the lowest price that the seller will accept. It is usually arranged by the auctioneer. So, if a painting has a reserve price of $1000, but then sells for $16,000 you know that the competition out there is pretty healthy. Beware though; auctioneers sometimes set the reserve price deliberately low to attract more professionals to the sale, hence greater competition and a higher final selling price. Basically, set a budget for yourself and stick to it, until you are comfortable enough in your knowledge of antiques to trust your heart and be brave in your bidding.
When bidding make clear signals with your paddle to signify to the auctioneer that you want to up your bid. Similarly, give a firm shake of the head to show that you no longer wish to bid.
The first few times you go to auction, it may be in your best interests just to watch, rather than bid for anything. Alternatively, you can hire your local antiques dealer to go and bid for you. Often, their expertise at purchasing bargains will more than pay back the fee you paid them.
If you become very serious about buying antiques at auction, be aware that for expensive items people are often represented over the telephone, while others make a commission bid, where an individual bids a certain amount by writing prior to the auction. If at the end of bidding the commission bid is the highest, the item will go to the person that made that bid.