Daily Archives: March 18, 2010

The Fall of the Gavel

18 March 2010

The Red Barn Auction house had atmosphere.  If certain government agencies had been present it would have rated a high level smog alert.  On a summer evening the humidity could have made a skeleton sweat.  But it had charm.  The rapid pace of the auctioneer’s song kept expectations at a fever pitch.  Located in the backwoods of Berks County Pennsylvania this antiques treasure trove didn’t attract big city high rollers.  The crowd consisted of working people: farmers, foundry workers, Amish families and a sprinkling of old school dealers who had learned their trade going “on the knock” and mining rural haunts like this one.

Genuine antiques are the hidden artifacts of daily living.  They are the furniture of a family’s life passed from hand to hand by thrifty people not given to frequenting the finest shops.  The chain of ownership of these items often leaves the entailment of inheritance via estate auctions.  This is where we dealers and collectors benefit through good fortune, a good eye, and knowledge of how the game is played.

I love a good auction.  They are filled with tension and mystery.  A really good auction will provide a payoff that means more than mere money.  To be successful it is necessary to observe the environment and use it to your best advantage.  There are a number of effective approaches.  Most of the time it’s best to be low key

You can tell a lot about the nature of the merchandise at an auction by the tone of the establishment.  Some are sophisticated and high brow, others are a bit rustic.  If the auctioneer is wearing a tie and there is an actual catalog with a glossy cover than you need to be ready to shell out some serious cash.  Fine art and high end furniture from America’s well known master craftsmen is a neighborhood that most bidders can’t afford to play in.  It is instructional to sit in on some of these auctions and observe what passes for good taste among the wealthy.  It can help you at a later date to identify an unexpected gem among an otherwise lackluster assembly of personal artifacts.

It’s All About The Early Bird!

Always arrive early to take advantage of the preview period. This is the time to spot your quarry and reconnoiter the surrounding terrain. Dig in boxes, riffle through books, inspect glass for chips.  Remember that condition is key in realizing full value.  look for damage, don’t worry about dirt.  Most things can be cleaned.  Take along some hand sanitizer.  It’s surprising how filthy your fingers get after handling auction merchandise.

Set a value in your mind for everything you look at.  It may not match the so called book value but hat is not the point.  A lot of things are not in the books. Your experience becomes the book and the real point is to set an upper bidding limit.  Without this you can be seduced by the excitement of the moment as the auctioneer’s rapid barely decipherable call rings in your ears.  Keep in mind that he is there to make a buck and excited, competitive bidders can get way out of control.  This is combat and keeping a cool head is as important as keeping your powder dry.

Allowing yourself adequate prep time will pay dividends by placing your bidding on a rational footing.  It also can give you the confidence in the midst of a bidding war to take the psychological high ground over your often unseen opponents in the room.  But, that’s for another time when we discuss the bidding game.

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