Yesterday Christie's New York held its bi-annual Antiquities and Ancient Jewelry sales and today was the turn of Sotheby's NY for their bi-annual specialist auction. AS record prices continue to be achieved for exceptional antiquities perhaps it is time to get down to the practicalities of buying at auction.
The process of buying works like this. You register your personal details and interests with the auction house prior to the sale in which you are interested. The auction house runs a credit check to make sure you can pay for your purchases then activates an account for you.
Viewings are held the week before an auction where you may inspect the lots to be sold in person. Catalogues arepublished in printed form and on-line up to a month before the sale where you may begin to assess pieces which may be of potential interest.
Auction lots are sold to the highest bidder and this may be done in several ways, You may attend the auction in person where you will be given a paddle with your bidder number which you show clearly to the auctioneer when you are bidding. It is a myth that if you scratch your nose during an auction you will be committed to buying a $50,000,000 Picasso - Auctioners are not stupid!
Each auction catalogue also has an absentee bid form in the back. You may leave a written bid with the auctioneer prior to the sale if you cannot attend in person or send an agent such as myself to act on your behalf. Remember however, you are more likely to lose out to a bidder who can attend in person.
You may also register for a telephone bid which must be booked in advance of the sale. The auction house will call you two or three lots before the item/s in which you are interested and you can confirm your highest bid in person.
Remember, staff are very helpful and there to answer your questions within reason. Particulalry important when dealing with antiquities, you may ask for photographs and crucially, condition reports on any item before deciding to purchase.
Remember not to get carried away and bid more than is reasonable (the printed estimates in the catalogue are a useful guide to the value of an artwork), or more than you can afford.
This is the crucial trade secret- remember DEALERS BUY STOCK AT AUCTION! If you are a novice collector, this is no bad thing as it is an extra guarantee of authenticity and quality as the pieces you buy will have been assessed by auction house staff and the dealer. The downside is you would have got the item cheaper at auction than paying the dealers mark-up.
Remember, auctions are public sales - do not be put off by posh salerooms or intimidated by front of house staff or experts, they are there to help you.
A final crucial point regarding the auction process - whether buying or selling you will pay a commision to the auction house (currently 20-25% of the hammer price) plus VAT, storage and delivery charges so remember your budget must take account of these extra charges.
Happy hunting, but be warned - the auction houses cannot always be releid upon to spot the forgeries and the dud's. Think very carefully before investing your hard earned cash!