How to Bid at Auction, the Fun Way (part 2)

Last week I did an introduction on bidding at auction and why you’d want to choose this competitive route for acquiring art. Today’s post is about which method to bid; whether you want to be present in the room, on the phone, on the computer or  leave an absentee bid.

Sotheby's

Every method starts out pretty similarly. You fill out registration with your shipping information and method of payment. You’ll request or purchase an auction catalog which will include all the lots in the sale. (Seasoned and favored clients will receive catalogs for free at high end auction houses). From there start the differences. An absentee bid is perfect for you if you want a chance to win the item but not think about it again until after the auction is over. Or, you simply can’t be present in any other form to bid. For this, you’re filling in the highest amount you’re willing to pay in hopes that no other bidder tops the price via the room, phone or internet. It’s possible that another person’s absentee bid could be higher than yours, but you wouldn’t know this.

If you don’t want anyone to know that you’re bidding on an item, it’s easy to follow the activity in close to real time via the internet. It’s not quite as exciting and there’s always the risk of a delay, but for the most part, the auctioneer gives good consideration to online bidders.

Phone bidding is for those that want to be in on the action but can’t be present or want to stay somewhat anonymous. Auctions are held in many cities and will garner bids regionally, nationally and at times, internationally. Some collectors are on the phone themselves, others use a dealer or employee to bid on works for them. About three to five lots prior to yours, you’ll receive a phone call from an auction representative that will confirm the lot(s) you’re bidding on. Once they come to your lot, he/she should be telling you all the activity of the bidding including what increments the auctioneer is working the room at. (It’s solely up to the auctioneer’s discretion whether increments get larger, stay the same, or if things are dreadfully dreary, get smaller to encourage bidding). With phone  and online bidding, the anonymity also gives you the opportunity to follow the sale without having to bid.

The row of auction reps taking bids via phone.

By far the most exciting and nerve racking is the art of bidding in person. Once you’ve registered, you’ll be given a paddle with a number on it. You can simply sit with this paddle and never bid. Or, as you browse through your auction booklet you can see the lots that you’re interested in and see what order things fall into place. Consider that each lot usually takes about 1-3 minutes. Sometimes things are “bought in” or unsold or will go much longer as a battle for the item plays out.  That’s when things get really good as bidders do battle for the coveted item via phone, internet, or in the room. Many seasoned collectors will not use the paddle once they’ve shown it once. A good auctioneer will remember where bids have come from in the room and a wink, slight nod or tilt of the head will tell him/her that you’re still in the game.

As the bidding slows down, the auctioneer will say the infamous phrase, “Going once, going twice and SOLD to the lady in green, bidder paddle 323/to phone bidder/to the online bidder,” as they slam the hammer to close the lot.

An engaging auctioneer, such as Sotheby's Head of Contemporary Art Tobias Meyer, will drive sales and put on an incredible show.

If you’re lucky enough to win a piece, Congrats! It’s a great feeling to win something in competitive fashion. There will be an invoice billed to you that day or sent to you.There’s usually a couple weeks before items are crated or boxed and ready to ship if you’re out of town. You also have the option to pick things up yourself.

Although the theme of my posts has been about art, auctions are a competitive and exciting market to acquire objects at a price that you’re willing to pay. Many times you can get what you want for a steal but it can also become an expensive status-building social scene. Either way, the auction culture is one that’s exhilarating, educational and full of surprises. If you ever want to go to auction or just go to a preview, give me a call. I’d love to. Happy bidding!

-Y-

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