You can lose your shirt buying at auction, part II

What else can go wrong at an auction? Plenty.

Consider restoration, for example. Many times antiques get damaged, whether it’s a vase that gets chipped or a lamp that breaks. Sometimes the restorations are excellent and sometimes they’re not. If someone want to get rid of this restored item, the best place is at auction. Frequently the extent of the damage is not revealed, either because the auction house doesn’t know or doesn’t care. It takes an expert to spot the restoration and either bid accordingly or not bid at all. Novices and even more experienced bidders can wind up buying items that they wouldn’t have if they had known better.

There are also some unscrupulous dealers who are quite inventive and create items from parts and pieces that look good to a novice but that never existed. Even major auction houses can make mistakes. Sotheby’s once had to withdraw a hanging Tiffany lamp from one of their important 20th Century auctions because someone complained that it wasn’t authentic. Sotheby’s called the restorer who made it and asked if it were true. He responded yes and Sotheby’s withdrew the lamp. Luckily in this case, a major problem was avoided by an astute observer, otherwise a buyer would have made a costly error.

There are many other pitfalls that unwitting buyers can fall into. Auction houses can run up your left bids. That means that you may have to pay more than you should have, if you were in control. An honest auction house will execute your bid fairly, but how do you know which are the honest ones? Not an easy question to answer.

There are many reputable auction houses where you can buy with some measure of confidence. As a general rule, the larger, more established auction houses would be the best bet. Make inquiries about an auctioneer’s reputation, with friends or dealers or with research on-line to find the best ones.

What is a shill bidder? What’s a reserve? How about a buyer’s premium? Seller’s commission? Buy-in fees? Insurance? Tax? Guarantee? I will be writing a complete insider’s guide to buying and selling at auction. Armed with this information, you will be able to avoid common buying or selling errors and come out a winner. It will be available on my website for a nominal fee.

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