How to Buy Antiques & Collectibles at Auction - VIEWING

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Antiques Of Worcester


This guide will explain all you need to know when viewing an auction. What to bring with you. Where and what to look for. How to decide whether an item is worth bidding on. After reading this guide you will be in a much better position to make a profit at the auction.

Always view an auction properly before bidding. If possible a few days before. Although this will cost you more in time and petrol, pre-viewing will prevent you purchasing damaged or incomplete lots. It may help you spot a bargain!

What to take with you?

  • Notepad and pen - Ideal to write down details of item, maker's names, dates etc. for further research. Also useful if there is no printed catalogue.
  • Small pocket torch - This will prove invaluable to look in the back of dark cupboards and inside furniture.
  • Magnifying glass - If you take a jeweller's eyepiece, remember to keep the eyepiece in your eye and move the object, to focus.

  • Auction Catalogue - Purchase this when you arrive. Some auctions will allow you to download it for free. Request to go on the Auction House mailing list and they will send you a copy before the next auction. (There may be a charge for this.)

Where to start?

Start at the very beginning! Unless you are going to the auction with a specific item or group of items in mind, then you need some 'plan of attack' before you start. There may be several 100 lots and viewing may take several hours.

If you wander about just picking out anything of interest, you will waste time and miss a bargain. It is usually best to start at at lot 1 and work your way round methodically. Auction houses will often have a section of furniture or 'smalls' as first lots to allow the furniture 'trade' buyers to buy and clear leaving room for bidding on the other lots. If you are not intetrested in furniture, you can miss this section.

How to mark your catalogue?

Use your auction catalogue to mark all the items you view. This way, you will know whether to bid when the lots come up at the auction, which may be several days away.

This is the system I use. I look at every item at the auction and mark each one on the catalogue with one of three symbols.:

X = DO NOT BUY      (May be damaged, cracked, pieces missing, can't sell or make a profit.)

? = MIGHT BUY          (If the price is right!)

O = WILL BUY             (If no one outbids me!)

With the lot numbers I have circled, I mentally calculate the selling price for my profit. Next to each one I write down the top price I am willing to bid up to. (Bear in mind there will be Buyer's commision and your overheads to add in.)

When viewing, you will often come across a lot which consists of many similar items. e.g. 16 paperweights. The total number will not always be quoted when auctioned. So - inspect each one carefully for damage, chips etc. and write down next to the lot number how many are 'good'. i.e. you will be able to sell. This way, on the day of the auction, when the lot comes up, you will know exactly how many good pieces you are bidding on and adjust your price accordingly.

Where to look?

As you work your way around the auction room, don't forget to look under tables where you will often find 'boxed' lots. Ensure you search these carefully, especially as other dealers may well have hidden the only good piece at the bottom. (A common practice!)

Remember at an auction everything is sold is 'Buyer Beware' as items are sold 'as seen'. This means you must look very closely to make sure the item is what it says it is.

Always remember to:

  • Inspect the back of furniture for damage, repairs,woodworm holes. etc.
  • Remove drawers in furniture to check for dovetail joints, repairs, use etc.
  • Lift up small pieces of furniture and look underneath. you will often be surprised by what you find. e.g. Maker's nameplate.
  • With china and glass, run your finger around the rims to check for chips. (Any damage at all. DON'T BUY!)
  • Lift up jardianaires, large vases and chamber pots and tap them. A dull clunk sound indicates a hairline crack. DON'T BUY!

Every now an then you will find items listed that are missing. This is because they are too valuable, or small and 'pocketable' to be left on an open table. They will be kept under lock and key for supervised viewing. Simple request to look and examine these separately. This will be much easier to do well before the auction.

If you are interested in a particular item, it may have a secret RESERVE. A 'reserve' means that the item will not be sold if it does not reach the seller's reseve price. Find out if there is one by asking a porter or the auctioneer. You will then  know if it is worth your while bidding and can mark your catalogue accordingly.

Who are my customers?

When you look at an item, always have in mind the potential customer you hope to sell to. These are mine:

  1. INDIVIDUAL CUSTOMERS I carry a notebook with my customers wants list.
  2. EBAY CUSTOMERS If you are viewing well before the auctual auction, you have time to do a search on 'completed items' to check previous selling prices. You can them mark your catologue with you maximium bid. (Selling antiques and collecibles on eBay will be the subject of a later GUIDE.)
  3. ANTIQUE CENTRE Here I have items which sell regularly.  I will always buy these if the price is right. e.g Christning sets, small silver pieces, cranberry glass, crystal glasses. etc. (Selling at an Antiques Centre will be the subect of a later GUIDE.)

These are all very different markets and they will all mean a different price ceiling on your bidding. Knowing your eventual customer will help you decide on a sensible bidding price. If you decide at the viewing stage your reason for buying, you will have a much clearer idea of what to bid up to when you see the item again at the auction.

By doing your preparation well at the viewing, you will be much more successful when it comes to bidding at the auction and 'selling on' your at a later date to make a profit.

I hope this guide has been of help in planning your visit to an auction. I would welcome any comments from first time bidders, private buyers and other dealers. You are welcome to visit my EBAY STORE where I sell antiques, collectibles, vintage picture CD's, mounted original prints, books, comics. etc.


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