Buying Antiques at an Antique Auction


Buying antiques at an antique auction is one of my personal favorites since that is how my wife and I got into the antiques business. We wanted an antique bedroom suite for my daughter, especially one with an antique dressing table. I can’t remember how we found the particular antique auction house where we went. That was in the days before the internet, yes I am a Baby Boomer, and we didn’t have computers and the convenience of being able to Google anything we needed.

This was the very first auction of any kind that we had ever attended. The auction house we found had an English antique auction twice a week. They sold a complete container of English antiques twice a week. It was mainly an antique furniture auction, and I might add, much higher quality than most English auctions today. They had beautiful antique sideboards, antique dining room suites, bedroom suites, chairs and tables of all kinds. They had some antique collectables, but they specialized in furniture. There is another related post on buying antiques at other auctions.buying-antiques-at-an-antique-auction1

We were able to purchase a beautiful antique Queen Anne bedroom suite for my daughter. There was an antique bed, a neat antique dressing table or vanity with three mirrors on long, graceful cabriole legs, and a large and small wardrobe, or armoire. We had so much fun, we started attending that particular antiques auction in Dallas on a regular basis. Part of the fun of attending an antique auction is to buy antiques at what you believe is a very good price. We would see something that was going for less than they had been selling and would end up buying it. Before long we had several antique pieces that we really did not need.  So we had a garage sale (see the article on selling antiques at a yard sale) and did quite well. And from there, well that is the rest of the story.

That is enough about why antiques auctions are sentimental for me, but why should you consider buying antiques at auction. In most antique auctions, about 70%-80% of the crowd is made up of antique dealers who are coming there to buy antiques to resell. So basically they are looking to buy antiques at wholesale prices. As an individual, it is ideal to buy antiques where the dealers buy.

Most antique auction companies have auctions on a regular basis, whether it is once a week, once a month, or whatever. This allows the dealers to have a regular place where they can come and get fresh merchandise for their antique store, or for their booth in an antique mall. You will see that every auction house has their regulars that come to nearly every auction.

There are many different kinds of antique auction houses. I mentioned the English antique auctions that import containers from England. There are some, but not as many that also import French antiques. Then there are consignment auctions where people bring their antiques & collectables to be auctioned off.  The auctioneers charge a fee, usually 20% to 30% of the auction price to sell the merchandise. Usually they also charge a buyer’s premium of 10% to 15% on top of the auction price for the buyers. That is the way the auction houses make their money, through these commissions. I might add that many auction houses are now also selling live on the internet. Usually the internet buyers have to pay a higher buyers premium than the live buyers.

Different antique auction companies have different standards of what they will accept for auction. Some will accept almost anything to sell and others are very particular. Some of the nicer auction houses will have an antique appraiser on staff that will give free valuations as to what they think an item will bring at auction and whether they think it is worthwhile for them as well as the seller to put the item up for auction. Some will have reserves on particular items. This reserve is the minimum the auctioneer will accept for that particular auction. The reserve price will not be revealed until the auctioneer bangs the hammer, referred to as the hammer price. If the reserve is not met, the item is returned to the consignee. Some of the finer auction rooms will furnish an auction catalogue of all of the items to be auctioned and will give auction valuations on all or part of the items. Some of the most exclusive auctions charge for these catalogues. Some specialty auction catalogues become collectors items and the authority on a particular collectible. This might be a fine art auction featuring antique paintings of a particular period. They might even be offering a collection from someone who was known for their fabulous antiques. Many auction houses have antique pickers that buy for their auction and regularly bring truckloads to that auction. There is a TV show about pickers. The Antiques Roadshow many times will give an estimate based on the action price of a particular item.

Nearly all auctions sell items “As Is”, I’m not aware of any that don’t. That means you are responsible for looking over the items you are interested in buying very carefully. The auctions have a viewing time to allow you to do this. Unless you have inspected something very carefully, do not bid on it. Too many times, and I have done it myself, you think a particular item is going way under where it should be. So you bid and buy it only to find there was something wrong with it that you didn’t know about. So be sure and preview the items very carefully. I would also strongly suggest that you set a limit on what you are willing to bid on an item BEFORE the auction starts and stick to it. Otherwise you might get “auction fever” and get carried away with the auction excitement, and bid way more than you really wanted to bid. Then you get buyers remorse and wish you hadn’t bought it.

Another suggestion is to sit towards the back of an auction, at least until you become familiar with it. Most auctioneers are very honest, but I have seen an auctioneer take auctions “from the wall.” This means no one was bidding when they raised the bid. I like to see who is bidding and who I am bidding against. But don’t make it personal, yes I have done that also. Bid on an item, not to keep someone else from getting it.

Now, if you want to at least visit an antique auction, you might ask where can I find them. First, use the old faithful, Google. Be sure and use the different forms. Here are some examples, if you lived in Houston. I would Google all of the following things, “antique auctions in Houston”, “Houston antique auctions”, “Texas antique auctions“, “antique auctions Houston, TX” (this is especially true if your city has a the same name as cities in other states). Hope that didn’t insult your intelligence, but each one of those searches could bring different results. The best online site for finding auctions of any kind is This auction site will allow you to put in your zip code, how far you are willing to drive, and the kind of auctions you want to attend. Not all auctions use this site, but it is the most complete one available.

I hope I have given you enough information to help you make your visit to an antique auction a more enjoyable one. Buying antiques at an antique auction should be an enjoyable experience and give you a chance to find some great bargains.

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