Auction Etiquette and Basic Information
© Becky Linhardt 2013
Every reputable auction house will have very specific rules for the auction. They will be listed in the auction catalog and the auctioneer will state the basics fees and procedures before beginning the auction.
If possible order a catalog in advance or view items online to decide which items you are interested in pursuing even if you plan to attend the “exhibition” before the auction. In person you can see little defects that may affect how you bid. If you plan to submit your bid by phone or on the internet, reputable auction houses will accept phone calls requesting more information about an object.
Most auction houses have a buyer’s fee. Sometimes as high as 20% that will be added to the final price. State tax may be required. Some auctioneers pass on the fee that credit card companies charge them for processing the credit card transaction. Your final tally can add up quickly so make sure you have set a target price for yourself BEFORE the bidding begins. Reviewing the auction estimates posted online or in the catalog provides a good guideline but only you know what value an item has for you.
Bidding from the floor: Upon arrival at the auction house, head to the business offices to pick up a bid card. That number will be yours throughout the auction process. Make sure you make the auction card visible to the auctioneer while you remain in the bidding.
Absentee bids: If you know firmly what you would be willing to bid, you can submit a bid in advance of the auction. If no one else goes higher than your bid – the item is sold to you.
Phone in bids: Some auction houses allow phone in bids. You let them know what item you want to bid on and your contact phone number. They will call you as the lot number is approaching and stay on the phone as you decide to place bids, withdraw from bidding, or secure the bid.
Online bidding: Online bidding occurs at the same time as phone in and bids from the floor. Not every auction house is willing to deal with the hassle but as Wes Cowan of Cowan’s Auctions said when the bidding slowed, “Online and phone bids may slow things down but it does increase the audience and bring higher prices for the seller.”
If you have watch Antiques Roadshow on PBS you already know that there are two levels of valuation. At Cowan’s Auctions in Cincinnati you can get a free auction estimate – just remember to call ahead for an appointment.
Auction estimate: This is an oral evaluation by an appraiser of the price that an item might receive in the current market. That price is generally stated as a range that will be published in the auction catalog and online although the actual sale price may be higher – or lower.
Auction houses need a flow of antiques to remain in business so some auction houses (including Cowan’s Auctions) will provide free auction estimates and discuss whether they are willing to offer you a contract and accept the item(s) for auction. Call in advance to schedule an appointment. The auction house may ask a lot of questions about the items you have for consideration. They need to make sure they schedule the right appraiser for the item(s) you have to be reviewed in their workrooms or off-site.
If you contract for your item(s) to go to auction, there will be a seller’s fee, often between 10-20% of the price secured at auction. Consider the value to you – with a reputable auction house you get their experience, reputation, and their marketing expertise (online presence, catalog, advertising, repeat customer base, etc.). They are motivated to make money for you and for the auction house by securing the highest bid possible.
Insurance valuation: This is a written statement by a paid appraiser, generally needed for settling estate procedures or insuring an object as an addendum on an insurance policy. Arrangements can be made with an auction house to have a licensed appraiser review items in an estate. Pricing for such services varies by client needs and by auction house.