this new periodic feature, Bob Brooke offers personal insights into the
world of antiques and antiques collecting.
Are Auctions More Honest Today?
by Bob Brooke
are sales where a group of people bid on items presented by a
fast-talking auctioneer. Some of these fast-talkers speak so fast, it’s
often impossible to tell what they’re saying. In a matter of minutes,
they’re able to turn over an item from the world of the unsold to the
world of the sold.
And while these traditional auctions are social affairs, they attracted
some unscrupulous bidders. Many auctions offer specialized merchandise.
Antiques auctions, often located in rural areas, had once attracted a
particular type of crowd—a crowd of antiques dealers and collectors.
Auctions have been a traditional and favored inventory source for
antiques dealers for decades. Unfortunately, the competition for auction
inventory has become keener in more recently.
Antiques that would once have made their way to a local auction house
are now being sold on the Internet in both online auctions and store
sites like Etsy and Ruby Lane. At today’s live and online auctions,
there’s increased bidding competition from decorators and interior
designers, as well as upscale homeowners who have plenty of money to
spend. Collectors are also cutting out the middleman and going direct to
auctions for both selling items from their collections and new
acquisitions. Auction-goers have come to dread the term "phone bidder"
because it usually translates as "deep pockets."
If a dealer really wants an item for resale, he or she can't be so much
in love with it that they’d be willing to stay married to it which is
just what will happen if they bid it so high they'd have to price it for
resale far above its value to any potential customer. But reining in
bidding in the heat of the adrenaline rush is easier said than done.
More than once, an impulsive dealer has confessed that he paid way too
much for the item at auction. The limitations on a dealer's bidding
capacity for items intended for resale are a matter not just of money,
but also of expertise. A bidder, even a dealer, needs to know about what
he or she is bidding on? Therefore, auctions always involve a certain
element of risk.
Now that saleable antiques are getting more scarce, auctions are a place
where buyers often behave badly. Some might just call this behavior
"tricks of the trade." but they’re really a violation of auction
etiquette if not of ethics.
buyers rearrange the contents of box lots during the auction preview. In
this case, a buyer arranges his or her own box lot by surreptitiously
switching items between boxes previously arranged by the staff of the
auction house. In this way, the buyer amasses a lot he or she would
like, cherry picking at a box-lot price. Naturally, the buyer has do
this late enough in the preview period so that someone else can't come
behind and rearrange the same group of items to satisfy their needs..
Dealers have even been known to talk down merchandise in which they're
particularly interested so as to discourage other bidders so that they
can acquire a valuable resale item cheap.
And even though it’s illegal, some dealers have banded together to sort
out the best items up for auction and bid against each other on each of
the items so that each dealer wins the item he or she wants.
the decorators, interior designers, and upscale homeowners began going
to auctions, dealers would often sit together in the front row. When an
item came up for bid, it seemed that it was sold without any movement
from the audience----no raising hands, no calling out bids. As it turned
out, these dealers would wink, raise a finger, or nod to the auctioneer
to indicate their incremental bid. Today, many auctions use cards that
bidders must hold up to bid. A much more democratic way of doing things.
With the Covid-19 Pandemic, a lot has changed, including antiques
auctions. Since people haven’t been allowed to gather for live auctions,
Internet auctions have ramped up considerably. Since bidders all bid
separately without knowing what others are bidding, unfair practices are
kept to a minimum. Internet auctions have leveled the playing field.
Usually, auctions offer items one at a time, rather than in box lots.
And instead of bidding ending in a matter of minutes, it often continues
for a specified time, generally no more than a day.
Ebay was the first online auction site. It offered everything from soup
to nuts using an online bidding format that usually ended in seven days,
but could be repeated if the item didn’t sell the first time around. But
savvy bidders quickly learned to outbid the competition in the last few
seconds of bidding. Over time, people got tired of bidding on items that
they knew they would never win. So eBay sellers went the “buy-it-now”
route for many items.
But many traditional
auction houses, including Sotheby’s and Christie’s, the best in the
business, have set up shop online. For one thing, it opens up their
auctions to a worldwide market, ensuring that more items sell and for
much higher prices in many cases.
Other auction houses such as Andrew Jones Auctions of Los Angeles,
Bruneau & Co. Auctioneers of Cranston, Rhode Island, Ahlers & Ogletree
Auction Gallery of Atlanta, Georgia, Miller & Miller of Ontario, Canada
also use have taken to using several auction sites such as
Invaluable.com to get wider coverage, thus
ensuring that their items go to a larger audience.
Online auctions are also a boon to collectors. Instead of having to
trudge from one live auction to another, they can search for the item
they want and check out several online auctions in quick succession.
Online auction sites such as LiveAuctioneers, 1stdibs, and Invaluable.com list items from a number of small auction houses at the
same time. It’s even possible to check items that have been sold in
previous recent auctions to see how much particular items sold for.
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