With top interior designer, Charlotte Moss, offering an abundance of goodies at auction this week, now seemed the perfect time to share how to bid at auction and my top 3 tips gleaned from my years employed at Sotheby’s.
1. Attend the pre-sale exhibition to view the lots offered in person.
The sales experts do their best with condition reports–no one wants an unhappy buyer. Still nothing beats seeing the merch in person.
Take for example this sweet, japanned cabinet in the Moss sale (lot 5298, $700-1,000). Note the wood loss on the lower left leg. Apparently, the wood piece is retained, but only you can judge how you would feel if you glued it back on. You need to see that piece with your own eyes.
2. Remember that the value added by provenance is a wild card.
I noticed at Sotheby’s that the experts did not take into account provenance when they set auction estimates. In other words, they assessed the objects at face value, preferring to let the free marketplace determine how much someone is willing to pay to purchase something previously owned by the famous or otherwise fashionable.
You need to take into account provenance when determining your bid, because it is unlikely to be reflected in the estimates.
I don’t have first hand knowledge of how it’s done at Doyle but my best guess is that many of the objects in the Moss sale will go above their high estimate because folks will pay more to own something that was once owned by Charlotte. I am almost certain that the sweet pagoda that I mentioned this morning (the one Charlotte got from the Estate of Tony Duquette) is going to achieve much, much more than its $1200 high estimate, because both Charlotte Moss and Tony Duquette owned it.
3. It is always best to attend the auction in person. However, if you can’t attend the auction, be sure to place an absentee bid as high as you can tolerate.
When I was at Sotheby’s, I often saw the auctioneer give a live interested bidder one last chance to top an absentee bid. What that meant is that absentee bidders often lost by one bidding increment, unless the lot had zero interest in the room. Still, placing a high absentee bid (that you can accept paying if it comes to that) does not mean that you will automatically pay your highest amount.
Here is how it works. The auctioneer can bid on behalf of the seller up to the reserve price (the confidential minimum price below which the lot won’t sell). This can be sneaky–sometimes it is hard to tell whether the auctioneer is recognizing a true bid. But, and this is a big but, once the reserve is reached, your absentee bid only will be recognized to top a “real” bid in the increments the auctioneer has set for the lot. It is possible to win the lot for less than your top absentee bid. I suggest bidding as high as you can tolerate to overcome the inherent advantage in actually attending the sale.
Bottom line when it comes to the Charlotte Moss auction: I am not expecting any real bargains, but that is the beauty of auction. Anything can happen.
All images from Doyle’s website. The room shots include some items that are for sale.