Auctions are great places for people watching. There is usually an eclectic mix of personalities and most everyone there has an agenda. The crowd divides into two basic camps: dealers and non dealers. The two groups are not in open conflict but there are tensions.
I started going to auctions a long time before entering the antiques trade. I remember that dealers were kind of looked on as greedy and not operating completely above board. When my status changed from collector to dealer, my attitude changed. I still recognized a kernel of truth in my former way of thinking. Dealers dominate the room.
As a new dealer I was roundly ignored by my colleagues. After a time I became known in the trade and found that there was indeed a sort of brotherhood of dealers. In the auction house environment this was manifested in informal agreements.
This became apparent one day when a fellow antiques dealer standing beside me at a preview opened a line of questioning I had not yet run into. he must have noticed that my examination of items had certain themes or areas of interest. We got to talking about the merchandise and he casually offered that he would not bid on the items I was clearly interested in. Implicit in this was an assurance that I would likewise refrain from bidding on items he was concentrating on. Okay, I could see the advantage.
This sometimes goes according to genre. The furniture dealers will stay away from the glass who stay away from the old books who stay away from the old advertising, etc. This is okay as along as nobody is in collusion to drive up prices.
Casual deals are made all the time. It doesn’t give you exclusive control of bidding but it does cut down on a little bit of competition. keep in mind if you are interested in a cut glass vase and somebody else wants it too, then it’s just a matter of who has the most money and motivation. This is why it is so important for a dealer to know his market.
I was always a electronic cigarette drops niche marketer antway. Why buy something that is outside your area of expertise? Focus on your own auction and stay on the money trail.
One of the most interesting and entertaining characters in the auction room is the person who buys out of emotion or sheer desire to have that one thing that is sure to blind him like a brand new silver dollar reflecting the noon day sun. Such a person is liable to get hijacked by shills. I know, shills are illegal and immoral. They are associated in some way to the auctioneer 9paid to perform, keeps teir brother-in-law off the street) and deliberately drive up the bidding. It’s extremely hard to exposed their misdeeds. Your best defense is to bid wisely and deliberately.
On the other hand, it’s very entertaining to sit and watch a good honest bidding war run around the room. It happens because there is a truly rare and precious item on the block, personalities are colliding or two people are just turning to ashes in the heat of the moment.
You see it coming when the bidding gets above what the average Joe sees things go above pocket money level. There is usually a murmur at the hundred dollar level. The dealers generally have some snse of the market in higher end shops. They aren’t excited yet. if the bidding continues at a steady pace with no hesitation the room will go very quiet. Everyone gets caught up in the moment and heads start to swivel looking to identify the combatants. The tension builds until the auctioneer has finally called, “sold!” Applause often follows with perhaps some chuckling by those who have inside knowledge.
I’ve seen this happen many times for various reasons. A common one is the result of family members having a show down. “Grandma said I could have her sewing box when she was gone.” If you didn’t get get your due from the will then the estate sale is your second bite of the apple.
Find a good auction house to attend regularly. There’s no cover charge and on a good day it’s better than TV.
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