The Call

24 March 2010

The first time you go to an auction you will find it strange to listen to the auctioneer’s call.  Every auctioneer has a personal style.  Some are easy to follow while others might as well be speaking Urdu or ancient Egyptian.  Why don’t they just speak normally?  Hey! What fun would that be?

The auctioneers call is steeped in tradition.  The rapid pace has a very practical purpose: to move the goods.  Time is money.  The sooner a final bid is reached the sooner a new item can be put on the block.  In general it seems that the pace is slower at the high class houses where serious art and antiques are headed for the homes of the mega-rich.  The rest of us need to develop an ear for the bid levels that  are within reach.

Usually you must register for a number to be able to place bids.  The number may be on a paper card or a paddle.  The idea is simply to raise the number to place a bid.  In practice the veteran bidder will not make such an obvious display.  Use a subtle motion.  If you can block the view of the paddle from the rest of the room, even better.  In most cases you can make your first couple of bids in an obvious manner.  After that use a signal.  Nod your head. tug on your ear, rub your nose. 

This may seem strange but the auctioneer will know what you are doing and he will go along with it.  His goal is to realize a high sale price .  Secret bidding helps to build suspense and appeals to the buyers competitive nature.  In a room full of dealers and collectors there are frequently some very intense feelings.  when you are familiar with the personalities involved a good auction can be way better than TV. 

When an item first comes up for bid the auctioneer will give his starting bid, repeating it until someone responds.  If nobody places a bid the auctioneer will name a lower bid.  The opening bids may go ridiculously low.  When someone finally takes the bait the bids will rise, usually to somewhere above the starting price.  Why does this happen?  Because everyone loves a bargain.  Take your kids along and show them the free market in action.

As a bidder the game can be played with a bit of strategy.  I prefer a little psychological warfare, harmless warfare of course!  But the game actually begins before bidding starts.  Hold that thought for next time when we talk about the art and practice of being Mr. Cool.

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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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Thrill of the Hunt

15 March 2010

Antiquing is a gentle sort of blood sport. There are two breeds of hunter in this game, the auction assaulter and the flea market crawler. Auction houses and estate sales are competitive environments.  Flea markets are more like stalking game through tall grass. Each has it’s own approach and each can have a singular thrill.
     The fall of the gavel, the surreptitious signaling of bidders, the smell of old leather and furniture, the flashing of bankrolls are all part of a visit to an auction house. This is where antique dealers and serious collectors come to play. It’s a world where value is a measurement with spiritual dimensions. Amongst the box lots of miscellaneous leavings of peoples lives and the well cataloged treasures of rare and expensive antiques the real prize is the mystery item that has yet to reveal it’s value. There are hidden gems undervalued by the common herd but detectable by dealers and collectors who hold arcane knowledge of Ambien 5mg both the extraordinary and mundane artifacts of history. To be part of this club of seekers after the hidden prey of the auction house is to know the thrill of the hunt.
     Flea markets, Swap meets and garage sales are all about being the early bird. The good deals go fast and there is a lot of territory to cover. You have to develop a fast scan. be prepared to dig around in boxes and bins.  Flea markets are layered like archaeological sites. Don’t be shy.  Find a treasure and get ready to bargain for it.
     I tend to spend less for individual items at flea markets than at auctions. Auctioneers are usually more experienced at setting values. They are able to research their inventory and have some expectation of the final bid price. And you are competing with other highly motivated hunter-gatherers.  In future postings I will go into more details about these two basic hunting preserves and talk about some strategies for bringing back your quarry.

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The Art and Practice of Time Travel

15 March 2010

Welcome to your voyage of discovery to the old world.  Antiquing is time travel simplified.  No need to involve physicists or secret government laboratories. Whether you are a dealer or a collector there is a lot to learn.  Fortunately it can be taken in individual bites.
This pursuit is not just about dusty relics from the distant past. Antiques are sometimes defined as all items over 100 years old. Of course that brings a whole new range of objects into view every year.  The antiques and newer collectible markets have merged solidly over the past several decades.  Many people are more fascinated by 1950’s era chrome legged kitchen tables than colonial ladderback chairs or Chippendale pie crust tables
It boils down to nostalgia and passion.  What stimulates your imagination, piques your curiosity or speaks to your soul?  Does an old rag doll give you a case of the warm and fuzzies?  Does a brass sextant in it’s fitted wooden box bring an image to mind of the ocean’s broad horizon and the tropical sun above?  Antiquing is one part learned history and two parts visceral excitation.  Mix and stir well.
Return to Adventures in Antiquing as we serve up stories, opinion and just enough education to be useful.  Consider us to be partners in time travel. To begin, we ask what is antiqueing all about?  It’s about the thrill of the hunt!  Keep your eyes open and don’t be squeamish about crawling through the underbrush.

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