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How To Know What to Look For at an Antique Auction


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Whether you’re collecting antiques for a hobby or buying for resale, an antique auction provides tons of opportunities to find unique items at reasonable prices. These fast-paced events are exciting and attract a very diverse crowd. When you attend an antique auction, you can expect to have a fun experience. And, you’ll just never know what you’ll find!

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How To Know What to Look For at an Antique Auction

  1. 1. HOW TO KNOW What to Look For AT AN ANTIQUE AUCTION a u c t i o nANDa p p r a i s e .com
  2. 2. Whether you’re collecting antiques for a hobby or buying for resale, an antique auction provides tons of opportunities to find unique items at reasonable prices. These fast-paced events are exciting and attract a very diverse crowd. When you attend an antique auction, you can expect to have a fun experience. And, you’ll just never know what you’ll find!
  3. 3. WHAT’S Considered AN “ANTIQUE”?
  4. 4. The term “antique” is used pretty loosely today. With older items popping up in all different types of retail venues, you really need to arm yourself with some good information to avoid making a buying mistake. For example, many items are classified as “antique” that really aren’t that old. Here’s a general breakdown of what you should know when shopping for antiques: • A true antique is at least 100 years old. Therefore, you can see how often older items get mis-labeled when being sold. • A “near antique” is an item that’s 75 to 99 years old. • “Vintage” is a popular term used to describe many older items today. However, it’s important to note “vintage” items are not antiques. A vintage item is generally something from the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s or 1970s.
  5. 5. BUYING Antiques FOR RESALE
  6. 6. If you’re a dealer with an antique business or just looking to resell items for a profit, you’ll want to find specialized auctions that offer the largest antique inventories. The best auctions to attend will be those that attract other dealers. Although if you’re just starting out, you may question whether you should attend an auction that attracts a lot of competition. However, this strategy has its advantages. Because established dealers need to stock their stores, they need a revolving supply of interesting antiques. And because they need to resell for a good profit, dealers will know about the best antique auctions. If you attend the same auctions as these pros, you’ll have a better chance of getting wholesale prices.
  8. 8. Collectors just starting out need to take the time to fully understand how an antiques auction works. For example, you should be aware of the rules and regulations of the auction house conducting the event. Specific bidding and payment requirements will be posted for each auction. You also need to be prepared to pay a buyer’s premium on top of a winning bid. This amount varies depending on the auction service, but is oftentimes 10%. A buyer’s premium is like a commission. It’s how the auction houses make money for the services they provide. There are few auction firms that do not charge buyer’s premiums, and finding one is almost as precious as finding a valuable antique. Auction Systems does not charge buyer’s premiums.
  9. 9. Many auction houses will publish a catalog prior to its antique auctions. The catalogue will provide valuations and detailed descriptions on the items. The items offered by an auction house will vary depending on their established standards. Some auction companies may specialize is particular types of antiques while others accept all kinds of items. In addition, higher-end auction houses will have appraisers on staff to provide accurate valuations. In some cases, a reserve might be placed on a particular item. The reserve is a minimum bid that must be received in order for the item to be sold. The reserve price will be revealed only after the auctioneer closes the bidding. If the high bid does not exceed the reserve price, the item will not be sold.
  11. 11. Like making any other purchase, you need to be cautious when bidding on antiques at auction. Because so many venues exist to buy antiques, like antique shops, garage sales, thrift stores, online sites, flea markets and auctions, it’s easy to get duped into over-paying. The following guidelines will help you get quality items at the best prices possible – and have a lot of fun in the process!
  12. 12. • Don’t skip the inspections -- Like most items at any auction, antiques are sold as-is. So, you need to be extra diligent about what you’re buying to ensure you don’t overpay or get a lemon. Antique auctions typically will have inspection periods, so you must take advantage of these opportunities. When you attend an inspection, make sure you methodically look at all the items. Some items may be located under or behind things – sometimes good stuff is intentionally hidden by other interested bidders!
  13. 13. It’s important not to bid on any item, regardless how much you may want it, unless you have conducted a thorough inspection. You may be tempted to buy an item you haven’t inspected because the bids appear low. But, use some restraint so you don’t run the risk of buying an item that has something wrong with it. To avoid getting overzealous, set your bidding parameters before you attend antique auctions. Then, stick to your limits. By nature, auctions are exciting events and it’s easier than you think to get carried away. Nothing is worse after having a great time at auction than experiencing buyer’s remorse after the excitement fades.
  14. 14. • What to bring to the inspection – You probably don’t want to rely on your memory, so bring something to jot down your notes, such as a notepad and pen, smartphone or tablet. You’ll want to include details of each item you’re interested in, including maker name, dates, distinguishing marks, etc. A flashlight is also important so you can inspect in dark areas. And, a magnifying glass will help you see small print, flaws and other markings.
  15. 15. • How to make bidding decisions – Before you even think of placing a bid for an item, make sure you view the auction catalog and attend an inspection. Many auction companies have the catalog available online. Start this process at least several days before a live auction. First, go through the catalog and mark all the items that interest you. A good system might include designations for each item. For example, you might want to cross-out any items you definitely don’t want, such as those that are damaged, missing pieces, etc. You should also put a mark by those items you may be interested in if the price is right, as well as those items you definitely want to buy if you’re the winning bidder. Next, for the items you intend to bid on, you should indicate on your catalog worksheet the maximum you are willing to pay. Make sure to figure the buyer’s premium into your bidding strategy.
  16. 16. • Devote ample time to the auction process – Even if you’re interested in just one item, you’ll still need to invest a fair amount of time reviewing the catalog description, inspecting the item, planning your bidding strategy and attending the auction. And, if you’re interested in many items, the time commitment will be substantial if you want to be sure to get the best deal. Successful dealers and collectors understand the effort required. They don’t “wing it” when it comes to buying antiques at auction. If you want to avoid costly mistakes, don’t dilly-dally! Develop a well thought-out plan of attack so you don’t miss anything – you don’t want to buy something with a major flaw or miss a real gem because you weren’t thorough enough in your approach.
  17. 17. About the AUTHOR DEB WEIDENHAMER PRESIDENT Deb Weidenhamer is President of Auctions Systems Auctioneers & Appraisers, Inc., based in Phoenix, Arizona. They specialize in auctions and professional appraisals. Visit us at or call 800-801-8880 for more information about an Antique Auction.