Buying Antiques & Collectables at Auction

Buying antiques and collectables at auction is much more popular with the general public than it used to be. Gone are the days when only trade buyers and serious collectors were found at auctions.

Although there is nothing particularly complicated about auctions, the buying process can be a bit confusing if you are not familiar with it. The good news is that nearly all auction houses operate in a very similar way to each other.

In this guide, we will provide all the information you need to start buying at auction without embarrassing yourself or getting caught out by unexpected fees:


Viewing

Magnifier - Useful for checking over antiques & collectablesAlthough you can buy items without viewing them, it's always more sensible to inspect items yourself (click here for our guide to inspecting ceramics) before bidding on them if you can. Auctioneers' condition descriptions vary widely and some are more detailed and accurate than others.

Viewing is usually possible on the day of a sale (before it starts) and on one or more days preceding the sale - contact the auction house for viewing times. You can't normally view during a sale, so if the item you want is near the end of the catalogue you will still have to arrive beforehand and then wait or come back later to bid on your lot.

There is a lot of waiting around at auctions...

Most items will have an auctioneer's guide price which will be printed in the catalogue - but this is only a guide. There is no guarantee that the item won't go for more or less than this, unless a reserve has been placed on it. Lots with a reserve cannot be sold below the reserve amount, but auctioneers won't always tell you the reserve and will often start the bidding lower. This is why some lots will be "not sold" - they haven't met their reserves.


Registering

Registering at an antique auctionIf you've decided to bid on an item, you will usually need to register (although there are still a few rural sale rooms where you just shout out your name when you win an item!).

Registration is usually done on the day of the sale, when you arrive. It's usually possible to register after the start of the auction, too. You'll probably need to provide your name and address and will be given a bidding number in return.

It's worth checking which payment methods the auction house accepts at this point. Some smaller auction houses don't accept all payment methods - some are even "cash only", although these are getting rarer.


Bidding

By the time the auction starts, you should have decided on your maximum bid for the items you want. Remember that a buyer's premium will be added to this bid if you win. This is usually 15% - 25% of the winning bid.

When your lot comes around, simply raise your hand or bidding number to place a bid and keep on going until you reach your limit. If more than two people are bidding, you may have to wait for one to drop out before you can enter the bidding.

When you reach your limit, shake your head when the bid comes back to you and the auctioneer will take you out of the bidding. If you win, hold up your bidding number after the hammer falls so the auctioneer can record it.


Paying

Take your bidding number to the cashier and ask to pay for your lots. They will check their records to see which lots you have won and add up the total amount due, including your buyer's premium, on which VAT is also charged.

For example, let's imagine you have bought one lot:

Winning bid: £100

Buyer's premium (15% + VAT @ 15%): £17.25

Total due: £117.25

Once you've paid, you'll be given an invoice and will be allowed to collect your items. Some auction houses don't allow collections during the sale - in which case you'll have to wait until the end of the sale or come back the next day. Ask to see what's possible, sometimes auctioneers break midway through the sale and allow collections during this time.


Disclaimer: Information provided on this website is for general information only. Perfect Pieces can accept no responsibility for any errors or omissions in the information provided.