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The C&TH Guide: How to Buy at Auction

7 tips for the first-time buyer

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Want to start your art collection but intimidated by auctions? Orlando Rock, Chairman at Christie’s UK gives us his top tips and tells you how to buy at an auction, from picking your piece to placing a bid and even buying online.

‘Almost everyone has watched an auction on television or in a movie, yet many haven’t sat in a saleroom and experienced the theatre and buzz of a live auction. They offer endless opportunities to discover and buy unusual, unique and intriguing pieces – from works of art to furniture for the home, from jewellery and watches to wine. For anyone who hasn’t considered buying at auction before, here are my tips on how, and why, to do it.’ – Orlando Rock, Chairman, Christie’s UK

How to buy at auction

  1. Christie’s Auction

    Find What You Love

The first step is to browse online, much research can be done on auction house’s websites. Secondly, visit the preview at the saleroom – typically, everything will go on public view for a few days before an auction so you can see and handle pieces. It’s good to ask questions – and there is nothing specialists enjoy more than talking to people about their chosen field – so do probe them for their views on quality, condition, provenance and the current market. There is a wealth of art, furniture, objects and collectibles to discover at auction that you won’t find elsewhere. If you trawl your local auction house there are wonderful discoveries to be made – many at bargain prices.

  1. Register to bid

If you intend to bid in an auction, you need to register to bid first – either online or by phone. Expect to be asked for ID and proof of address and be sure to register before the day of the auction.

Once registered, you will be given a paddle on the day of the auction. Everyone bidding will be given a unique paddle number – after each lot has been sold, the auctioneer writes down the paddle number of the winning bidder in the auctioneer’s book.

  1. Set yourself a limit

One can get carried away in the heat of the moment and you need to be clear in advance how much you are prepared to pay. Details of buyer’s premium and any additional costs that will be applied on top of the hammer price can be found on auction house’s websites and in the sale catalogues. Set your limit and stick to it …unless you really can’t live without it!

  1. Art Gallery - Christie's

    How to bid in the sale

This is the fun part. The first time you buy at auction, it really should be from a seat in the saleroom with a paddle – the buzz of an auction room is a unique experience. I still get a thrill watching an auctioneer conduct a sale.

If you can’t make it to the auction, however, there are other ways to bid. You can register to be on the phone with someone from the auction house, who will bid on your behalf. At Christie’s, clients can bid online via Christie’s LIVE – all you need is an internet connection. Leaving an absentee bid in advance of the auction sets the limit of how much you are prepared to pay and enables the auctioneer to bid on your behalf up to that amount – but don’t worry,  if the bidding stops at a lower level then you will buy it for that!

  1. Online sales

Today people are comfortable purchasing everything from their food to sneakers and handbags online, so this platform may seem less daunting than auction. You may find a painting that is just perfect for that blank wall at home, or that art deco engagement ring you’ve been searching for, is being offered in an online auction. Online auctions run for a fixed period of time (at Christie’s they are usually open for bidding for between one and two weeks) and allow you to bid 24 hours a day, from all over the world and on any electronic device. The same specialist team value and catalogue the pieces and the same guarantees protect you, however you buy from us.

  1. The role of the auctioneer

The auctioneer is the showman and conductor- and a good auctioneer will carry the room along with him or her, creating a sense of drama and tension – using the inflection of their voice and theatrical gestures to create energy and fun.  The auctioneer will set the starting price for each lot, opening the bidding with an absentee bid in the auctioneer’s book before welcoming additional bids from the room. He or she will be looking to take bids from the telephone bidders, acting on behalf of clients, those in the room with paddles, and at Christie’s, from the internet via Christie’s LIVE. There is a screen facing the rostrum that allows the auctioneer to see online bids the very second they are placed.

Raise your paddle for the auctioneer to see. They will come back to you again after they take a higher bid, and will continue to offer you bids until you decline to go any further. Or, until you outbid anyone else you are competing with! At that point, the auctioneer will bring the gavel down onto the rostrum, and record the paddle number of the winning bidder.

  1. After the auction

Once payment has been made, your purchase is yours to take it home. Then comes the fun of where to hang it and how to break the news to your husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend that you have got carried away and spent more than you had intended…

READ MORE: Why You Should be Buying Art This Year