What is an auction? For most people, the idea of an auction might make them think about buying cattle, chickens, horses, and livestock. Or, what happens to someone’s home when it is “sold at auction”. But, for some, it’s an entire world with endless possibilities. It’s a way to be passionate about the past as items are moved from one owner to another. It can even be thought of as commerce, with the buying and selling all part of “collecting” – a career in and of itself.
In our auction world, we talk about “stuff”. And that stuff can be anything worth a few dollars to thousands to millions – because if you’ve owned it odds are someone else wants to own it next – in the auction world there is a collector for nearly everything.
While going to an auction used to mean arriving at a specific location, today, you can watch and participate from almost anywhere in the world as auctions of everything from a thousand-dollar comic book, to a million-dollar painting is showcased live in-gallery and on television monitors.
If you go to many of these events, the casual viewer or attendee can gain a false confidence in their own knowledge and ability to work in the antique and auction world. One key to the auction world for novice collectors is experience, just like taking a test it is always better to study first, and buying at auction is that test. Sitting in front of a screen is great, but it is all about seeing, touching, and even smelling that item in person. Whether it be a Chinese vase or Star Wars Chewbacca, the experience of physically handling an item is the best way you’ll be able to identify the real deal when you see it.
After learning a thing or two by going to reputable auctions, galleries, and museums you’re ready to buy, but there is more to it than watching the auctioneer “drop a hammer” and saying sold. Whenever you buy at auction there is what’s known as a buyer’s premium, which is an additional cost beyond the hammer price. The buyer’s premium is a service fee charged by the auction house to cover administrative expenses for orchestrating the sale. A good thing to keep in mind as you factor in affordability.
Today the industry standard for a buyer’s premium is twenty percent of the sale price with certain auction houses ranging as high as twenty-nine percent. Aside from the buyer’s premium the winning bidder also pays sales tax unless it’s fine art, which is tax free in Rhode Island, and some other states.
While you can be present at an auction, most auctions today are live as well as online. Thanks to the internet, an auction is no longer limited to the people standing in a room, you can be relaxing on a beach or in your living room, and bid your heart away, watching the bids in real time on your computer or – in the case of Bruneau and Co – on our free App.
In the United States, the three-leading online auction service providers are BidSquare, Invaluable, and Live Auctioneers. Users can browse thousands of auctions that occur daily across the world. But the convenience of having a virtual paddle isn’t free, and inexperienced bidders easily dismiss the additional buyer’s premium tacked onto the house’s premium, and might get surprised by it when their credit card is charged. Bidding on a beach isn’t free, online servers typically charge an additional five percent for that convenience, so go in-person, always, if you can. And remember, there’s that touch and feel benefit that happens at the preview on auction night. Most houses will open a few hours beforehand for that opportunity because once the event starts items will move fast and furious!
Whether you’re an established collector, weekly Antiques Roadshow viewer, or are hearing about auctions right now for the very first time, it is something everyone enjoys experiencing. Every auction is an action-packed and emotion driven creating the ultimate shopping experience. With an auction, there is not a set price, the sky’s the limit, but the flip side is there is no bottom and there are always great deals to be had – or to watch others get. If you have consigned an item to auction with us you can also watch that item sell. We work with sellers who want to set a reserve price – or the minimum they will accept at auction. More about selling your items at auction the next time we talk about the wonderful world of AUCTIONS!