Have you ever fantasized about attending an auction, but thought you would be outbid on every piece that comes to the block? Think again. Sure, there is the one-of-a-kind Tiffany lamp or John Singer Sargent that might sell for millions, but there’s also loads of reasonably priced furnishings and decorative accessories that are sold at auction. We spoke to expert Diane Riva, marketing director of Kaminski Fine Art, Auctions, and Appraisals, as well as some of the folks at Boston’s famed Skinner auction house and PBS’s “Antiques Road Show” to lend us advice on buying at auction.
Q: Can you debunk some of the myths surrounding the idea of buying at auction?
A: Auctions are available to anyone-they are free and open to the public. You need not be a professional dealer or an expert to participate. Many fine art and antique items have sold at very affordable prices at auction.
We regularly sell things for a few hundred dollars all the way up to millions of dollars. Bargain-hunters don’t necessarily know about the opportunities available to them at auction. You don’t have to attend a sale in person; you may participate in the bidding online or by phone.Â -Stephen Fletcher, executive vice president and director of American Furniture & Decorative Arts at Skinner and Antiques Road Show appraiserÂ
You will not mistakingly wave your hand and own something you do not want. Everyone has a registered bidder card and number. You have to hold your number up at the end of the bidding to be recognized as the purchaser.Â -Diane Riva, Kaminski Auctions
Q: What are your most popular pieces that come to auction?
A: Popular items at auction can be anything from excellent bargains on Oriental rugs to furniture to great pieces of art.Â In the last sale, we sold a Tiffany enameled circus set for $26,000. There is something for every collector.Â -Diane Riva, Kaminski AuctionsÂ
I think buying jewelry at auction is smart because the value that you get for the price at auction far exceeds anything you would buy at your typical high-end retail jewelry store. When you buy antique and estate jewelry, you choose from historical as well as current designs. In an average jewelry auction, you’ll find 18th-, 19th-, 20th-, and 21st-century jewelry-where else can you find that variety of jewelry to peruse?Â When you look at so many varieties of design, your tastes change and become richer and more sophisticated.Â Â – Karen Keane, CEO of Skinner
The current auction market shows great strength in Asian art, American and European paintings, and fine jewelry, while other specific categories perform strongly but more selectively.Â -Stephen Fletcher, Skinner
Q: How does someone go about getting a piece appraised?
A: Prior to the auction, our appraisal department will research the item and put a low and high estimate on each item before it is listed in the catalog and on the Internet. This is a price that they feel the item will bring at auction. Things can sell for higher than the estimate or many times lower.Â -Diane Riva, Kaminski AuctionsÂ
We offer free estimates of auction value. All you have to do is call and set up an appointment with any one of our experts. You can also send in an online form requesting an auction evaluation: www.skinnerinc.com/appraisals/form.asp.Â -Stephen Fletcher, Skinner
If you want to get one of your own items appraised, you would bring it to our “free appraisal day”Â every Tuesday from 10am to 4pm at our Cabot Street office, Athey feel your item will bring at auction.Â -Diane Riva, Kaminski AuctionsÂ
Q: What are five tips for getting a piece appraised?
A: 1. Make sure you take clear and detailed pictures of the piece if you can’t bring it to us in person. 2. Take pictures of any marks, signatures, or condition issues. 3. Measure the piece carefully. 4. Include any provenance or history relating to the piece. 5. Include any relevant documents.Â -Stephen Fletcher, Skinner
Q: What are some tips when someone is bidding at auction?
Â A: Attend the auction preview prior to the sale to view the piece in person. If you can’t attend in person, view the online catalogue where the piece is pictured and described. Ask questions in advance to get more detailed information about the piece-good auction houses make the effort to offer accurate information and condition reports about any object they are selling to assure
you that what you are bidding on is genuine. A lot of furniture is selling reasonably in the current market.Â -Stephen Fletcher, Skinner
If you’re a novice auction-goer, think about your budget Â– don’t get caught up in the excitement and bid more than you should. Talk to the auction staff and the preview staff, and ask about the condition of the object. Has it been restored? Does it have all its original parts? Do some reconnaissance before you actually bid Â– you can go online and research the price point so you’re not paying more than an object is worth.Â – Karen Keane, Skinner
Take time and examineÂ each item you are interested in carefully.Â Measure itÂ if necessary to make sure it fits your space. Sign up to telephone bid or live internet bid several days before the sale if you cannot attend. Â You can even follow the sale on your phone and bid with many apps, such as Auctioneers.com. Set a price in your mind that you are willing to pay and perhaps establish a rule that you will go over the amount by only one bid.Â Be sure to calculate tax and buyer’s premium into your amount. It is so exciting to buy or sell live at an auction that I would highly recommend attending the sale if at all possible.
If the item you are interested in is passed at the auction, it is frequently because the consigner has set a reserve for the item. You can call after the auction and make an offer on the item, and the auction house will contact the consigner with your offer. If you have the time and patience, there are always bargains at the end of the auction.Â -Diane Riva, Kaminski AuctionsÂ