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Carly O'brien
Written by Carly O'brien 27th October 2017

Surviving an Antiques Auction

Now is the time to pick up antique furniture at bargain prices. The demand for period tables and chairs has been steadily falling for some time and London auction houses Bonhams, Christie’s and Sotheby’s now list far more contemporary art, jewellery and wine in their catalogues than they do antique furniture. The atmosphere in an auction room is electric, so if you’re heading to one for the first time, bear in mind the following points.

  1. Although we’ve all seen it happen on television, relax, because sneezing or scratching your nose won’t mean the auctioneer assumes a bid. Only if you have a bidding panel or are obviously bidding will your bid count.
  2. Make every bid look like your last. Undermine the confidence of the person bidding against you and wrong foot the auctioneer by rubbing your chin, shaking your head and making a great show of this being your very last bid.
  3. Get to the sale room early and check out the condition of the items before the auction starts, because if you have the winning bid when the hammer goes down the item is yours. If you buy something and are unhappy, you can’t take it back.
  4. Get a catalogue and talk to the auctioneer about the lots you’re interested in, they’ll be happy to help you. And beware - a buyer’s premium of roughly 20% is added on top of the hammer price, so don’t get caught out.
  5. It’s easy to get caught up in the drama and thrill of the chase so be realistic about your budget before the auction starts. For dealers it’s slightly different as they have a firm idea of the re-sale value, but if you’re bidding for something that you’ve fallen in love with and desperately want to own, pay exactly what it’s worth to you. You’ll be devastated if you lose out by just one bid.

If you’re looking for inspiration, there are a couple of art and antique fairs you won’t want to miss. The Winter Art & Antiques Fair Olympia, 1 – 5 November (olympia-antiques.com) and Antiques for Everyone Winter Fair at the NEC in Birmingham, 23-26 November (antiquesforeveryone.co.uk). Pieces at both events range from the modern, eclectic and quirky to the traditional and classic, so whether you’re looking to furnish your home or pick up an early Christmas present, you’ll be in the right place to find something special.