Friday 21 October 2011

Everyone Needs An Auction

The best way to find everything from food processors to furniture to fine art is to learn how to work an auction.  I know it seems scary and we've all heard stories of people getting stuck with a white elephant or who scratched their nose and had to pay for a grandfather clock.  Those are really folk tales and auctions aren't as difficult as they seem.

I started going to them in the late seventies to pick up furniture for my little girl's rooms.  Scandinavian Modern was in fashion and no one wanted Victorian dressers and beds, so I could pick them up for a song.  I refinished so many pieces I lost count.  When I was broke, I'd buy more furniture and sell the refinished pieces.  Without intending to, I became an antique furniture dealer.  During a stint as a flea market vendor, I became familiar with "smalls", pottery, silver, housewares, linens and decorative items.

I've made lots of mistakes.  That's usually because I didn't go to a preview or show up early enough to look  items over carefully.

Let's take a little tour of an auction preview.  This one is at my favourite house The Old Town Hall Auctions  in Paris, Ontario.  I've been going to this auction for over twenty years.  The auctioneer, John Runnquist, is knowledgeable and honest.  Yes, there are honest auctioneers!  This auction has a printed programme and if something is found not to be as stated they will make a full refund.

It all starts here ~

Assume the artwork, furniture and accessories grouped around the podium are the best goods offered that day.  I've learned more about fine art from listening to the descriptions and watching art dealers, museums and collectors bid on these items than I would have in any course on the subject.  John will start auctioning items at 10:30, and go without a break, until late afternoon, when all is sold.

I look over some furniture ~

The bed will probably go for around $1,000.  If a freak thing happens (and it sometimes does) and it goes for $200, I'll buy it. 

Here's a table of "box lots" ~   

The box in front has everything from a barometer to a jigger shaped like a golf club.  Oooh, is that a glass desk set in there?  Clean that up, add a pen and ink bottle and it will be lovely!  If that lot goes for $2, it's mine.  I'll probably pass on the signed Harlem Globetrotters ball and go for the kids books beside it.

The old gas pump is neat to go beside the garage ~ 

I don't have a garage, so pass on that one too.

Bingo! ~

The sun dial and gazing ball are nice if they go in the $50 range.  But, the baby sleigh and stroller are wonderful!  Please, let those go cheap!  It's near the end of the auction and the crowd will have thinned out. Maybe.

John will go like stink to sell the last of the stuff at the back.  Anything here will be a bargain.

Those are antique ice skates on top of the photos and roller skates ~  

Pass on the interesting wringer washer but might go for the ice cream parlour set ~

I'll go for the wooden crates if they are under $10 ~

I'd like this wicker for my front porch but it has to be under $100.  Pass on the brass bed that has rickety joints and no side rails ~

Let's pray there are no toy collectors there and my sister can buy these wonderful items for her etsy shop, 2 Be Cherished, at a reasonable price! ~ 

Ahhh, the sleigh and wagon will polish up beautifully and look fab for Christmas! ~

If I buy this lot just to get the hat box from Picadilly, remember I have to take everything here ~ 

I'll buy a $4 catalogue from John's wife, Winnie, to be sure I know what I'm bidding on.  I'll go an hour early and look everything over again before the auction starts.  I'll figure in a 10% buyers premuim (fee to the auction house) and sales tax on the maximum amounts I will pay for something.  

If you are sitting beside me, I'll gladly answers some of your questions.  Please don't ask too many, talk too much or too loudly or let the baby wail through it all.

Remember, you have the advantage over all the dealers.  You are looking for a good buy. Dealers have to be able to get double for the item when they retail it.  You can always outbid us!

Start small, learn as you go and be ready to get hooked!!!

Welcome to all the Herballistic Garden readers who are picking this post up from Wendy's site.  It's an honour to be "guest posting" and I'm so happy to be able to help her while she looks after her personal commitments!


  1. Oh my gosh I love an auction. I don't go as much as I use to. Use to be just mostly dealers now everyone goes around here and that runs the prices up quick. But your auction place looks to have some great things. Oh my, wish I could have been there.

  2. I've always wanted to go to an auction, but have been intimidated...I think I might go now! What a lovely tour you've given!
    Thanks Maureen!

  3. Thanks for the great tutorial. I'm love auctions. Can't bring myself to pay the prices they ask for new household items when I can get such good buys on gently used (most of the time) items.