Buying at Auctions

I went to an antique furniture and effects auction this weekend, where the auctioneers were selling off a mixture of great, semi-great, awful and sometimes bizarre items.  I find auctions fascinating, and spent a fair bit of time milling about looking at items coming up for sale on the preview day.  Where else can you find a stuffed zebra head sitting next to a box of 1960’s Action Men figures, pre-eagle eyes and gripping hands to boot?

In my head I had gone to try and find an good shaped cupboard, chair or armoire to renovate.  However, there was a plethora of quite badly already painted shabby chic items – shabby and not chic to be frank.  It seems that people just attack anything now with chalk paint and muted F&B colours, and I don’t think they always sit well on a 1930’s dresser for example.

Some of the pieces at the auction which had the right shape were beautiful and made from excellent mahogany or maple, and would be ruined by paint, so by the end of the preview I had a huge list of items I liked and wanted to buy and none of which should be painted!  I also seem to pick items which have the highest guide prices, which could be a sign of immaculate taste or just bad luck depending on how you look at it.

I ended up picking 2 items to bid on that were useful and could be upcycled without sacrilege; a pretty little Edwardian wing chair with tapestry/needlepoint upholstery and an old wall cabinet from a railway control box:

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This is going to be turned into either a thread, bathroom or curio cabinet, depending on if I can swipe it from my husband.

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This is a sweet and well-upholstered chair in very good condition.

To make sure I did not end up getting out of control on the auction day, I electronically sent in bids for the two with my maximum price to the saleroom.  I didn’t register to bid live which is possible with a PC, (like bidding on ebay but with way more adrenaline).  This is a really good way to stop splurge buying as I call it.  I tracked the auction on-line on the day, (you can listen live on a laptop), but only as a viewer so I could not start bumping up my bids past my decided top price.  Pat on the back and well controlled, I salute myself!

In the past I made the mistake of going to bid at the auctions on the day which can end in disaster and erratic purchases.  The worst time was when I was selling a lot of furniture at an auction as we were moving from a large house and I had to lose some large pieces of furniture and taxidermy.   At the auction I got totally out of control and came home with more antiques: a table, firescreen, cabinet and more.  I only meant to go and watch my own things sell, but when you see a Georgian table going for a song I find it hard not to stick up my hand.  Therefore this time I was a good girl, and won my items for their estimated guide price.

DO’s:

  • Visit on preview day
  • Take a tape measure and a camera
  • If the item you are looking for is for a specific place in your home, know the space measurements before you visit the auction house so you can work out if it will fit
  • Realistically set a top price, remember that buyers premium is added on plus tax.
  • If possible, bid online to stop impulsive price rising and buys.

DON’TS

  • Do not let yourself get carried past your set price by a fellow bidder.  Adrenaline can get the better of you, it is not a competition!
  • Do not buy anything without seeing it first in the flesh.  Auction photos are usually one picture and can be deceptive.
  • Not all Auction Houses will deliver without prior arrangement, and usually items have to be collected within 4 days of the Auction.  Make sure you have sorted out delivery, especially on large items, before bidding.
  • Finally, never nip out to the pub if it is a long auction and come back to bid after a couple of glasses of wine.  I made this mistake once and still have two enormous stone urns in my garden that a) I am not quite sure if I like, and b) which broke my car suspension when getting them back home which cost a lot more money to boot.

I picked my chair and cabinet up today, and was amazingly gratified to find the original sale price for the chair on the bottom  saying £400- Edwardian Chair.  I bid and paid just £50 for it.  Bargain and such a good feeling!  I am going to attempt to modify it by reupholstering the back in a complimentary fabric to give it a bit of zest.  I saw the below chair with contrasting upholstery in Traditional Homes and I love the result:

8IMZXSince I have never upholstered anything, this will be a interesting challege!

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