Top Tips for Buying at Auction

I have spent many years buying at auction, and here I share with you some top tips on buying vintage items at auction.


Top Tips for Buying Vintage Items at Auction

Written by Pamela Carvell, Quirky Antiques.

I was very nervous the first time I bid for something at auction. And the adrenaline rush, as I bid higher and higher was both awesome and scary! Nowadays, attending auctions, or bidding at them online, is a routine activity as part of my ongoing search for quirky antiques and vintage items for my online shop. But the anticipation and excitement are always there! It is lots of fun to do, but it is also easy to get carried away and swept along with the determination to be the highest bidder and win the item. It is also far too easy to end up with things that were a bargain, but which you don’t really need! There will always be things being auctioned for a fraction of what they cost, or are really worth!

So, what have I learned over the years?

Have a preferred auction house!

Find out which auction sells most of the type of items you  are looking for, at the best prices, on days or dates when you are free to attend the auction previews, available to bid (in person or online) and available to collect any items you buy. I recommend 2 or 3 visits to the previews of local auctions, a visit to each on auction day, and a review of past catalogues (online) to gauge what they typically sell and for what sort of price, before you ever go along to bid. Check what fees they charge on top of the ‘hammer’ price, and if they are happy to deliver items, if you plan to buy anything large. As weekly auctions rely on a high turnover of items, you will often be expected to collect any items within 2 days, and will be charged storage if you don’t. Attending an auction also gives you an idea of the speed of the auction, which typically varies between 80 and 120 items per hour. Then you can judge what time you need to be at the auction, or online, and don’t need to spend an entire day waiting for lots to come up. By attending an auction you will also understand what the registration and bidding system is. This varies by auction house. At some, once you have registered, you have a permanent number that you hold up. At others you wave your arm, and then just give your name if you are successful. At others you register on the day and get given a number solely for that auction.

Check out the Sales Catalogue.

This may be online the day before you go to the auction preview. Catalogues vary: some have detailed descriptions, some have guide prices, some have photos. At least have an idea of the Lot numbers of items you are interested in, to save time when you visit the preview. That way you can focus your energy on checking the condition of things.

Always Attend the Auction Preview.

Never buy, without attending the auction preview, to check the condition of items. After attending an auction preview I typically have a completely different list of items I am interested in bidding for, than I had when I went! At the preview, carefully think what your plans are for the item (will it really look good in your house? How much could you really sell it for, once you have cleaned it up? Etc) You may want to measure things, and perhaps take photos of some of the details of the items e.g. makers names, so that you can verify items.

Research Items you are Interested in.

Carry out research into the items you want to bid on. What are similar items selling for on Ebay? Or what have they sold for at other auctions recently? Is the item really what it has been described as? If you have been looking at boxes of items, research some of the key pieces that will drive the value of the Lot.

Plan Your Maximum Bids

Make a note of the maximum amount you plan to bid for each item AND STICK TO IT. There is always the temptation to think ‘I don’t want to lose it for the sake of a fiver’, but if 3 people are thinking that, before you realise it you have paid £50 more than you planned to. Auctioneers increase the bidding by different amounts, which is why it is important to attend an auction, before your first time bidding!

Learn how to play the bidding game!

If the auctioneer detects no interest in the room or online, he may very quickly drop the price very low, just to sell it (he knows if the client has stipulated a minimum price – you don’t!) but only give you seconds to bid. I have secured many items in this way, paying £10 for items listed at £50-100. So, from the catalogue, I may have thought they were too expensive, but if I really like them, will always pay attention just in case this happens. But you need to wave your arm quickly! This tactic rarely works online, as the bid doesn’t process quickly enough – as I have sadly learned a few times!

Be Seen & Heard!

Sit where you can be seen, and don’t be shy! Auctioneers are very professional, but things move very, very fast : much faster than on the TV! If all else fails, and you haven’t been noticed, shout out! No-one cares! It’s all part of the fun. I have even been known to jump up, when I risked losing an item because I hadn’t been seen.

Set a Total Budget

Set yourself a total budget for the auction. Once you have hit your budget, go home! (or log off). I typically will be interested in over 50 items from looking at the catalogue, 20 items after I’ve been to the preview and successfully bid on 5 items. But I always set the maximum budget, because there is always another auction next week!

Happy bidding!


Written by Pamela Carvell, Quirky Antiques, March 2018.


Author: @hypnochickuk

Passionate about healthy living, keeping fit, wonderful surroundings, happy people, inspirational people & marketing

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