When most people think about antiques and auctions, the old cliché of a dusty saleroom staffed by crusty retainers comes to mind. However, the reality is that it is our industry that has often led the way in innovation, especially with technology.
It may have something to do with the incredible ability of auction houses and dealers to adapt and survive, an attribute that has come into ever sharper focus during the pandemic.
Online bidding, in some shape, has been around for the best part of 20 years now, and has reached a level of sophistication that brings comfort to the least initiated when dipping their toe in the water. Galleries that previously depended on footfall are doing rather nicely, thank you, after swiftly moving planned exhibitions online, even adopting newly developed virtual viewing rooms that grant easy access and help boost sales.
As a longstanding member of our profession, for me nothing will ever replace the thrill and buzz of the live saleroom, with ranks of bidders seated before me as I conduct proceedings from the rostrum. But technology has proved a boon, not just in helping us continue in these dark times, but in extending our geographical reach well beyond the limits of our region to penetrate the furthest corners of the globe.
It has also brought us a new younger audience, who have been getting their first glimpse of antiques. The word ‘antique’ may not be for them, but what they see certainly is, as I can vouch.
As soon as the auctioneer has handed over the sales record from the rostrum – which they will do at regular intervals throughout the sale – and passed it to the office, payment will be processed via your online registration.
You will receive confirmation of payment and, together with the catalogue description and any condition report you may have applied for prior to the sale, this is an important document as it forms part of the item’s history or provenance, showing that title has passed to you and what condition the item was in when you purchased it.
One of the reasons that this is important is that, unlike buying from a shop or in a retail situation, at auction there is no automatic right of return on goods once you have bought them. Once the hammer comes down, as long as the item is sold as described, it becomes the property of the successful bidder.
This is another reason why inspecting the item carefully before the auction is so important. Auction houses understand this, which is why online images and condition reports are now so clear and detailed.
Don’t forget to file the paperwork safely as it can be of enormous help should you ever wish to sell the item on. A clear provenance not only makes an object easier to sell on, it can, in certain circumstances, even add to its value.
Once payment has cleared, there should also no bar to you removing your purchase from the saleroom, provided you do not disrupt the ongoing sale in the process. So before bidding on something large or delicate, think about how it is going to be delivered to you if you succeed in buying it. Check out the cost of delivery too.
Once you take possession of the goods, you will be responsible for their safe transport.
Now that so many people who have never bought at auction before are starting to bid, here’s a timely reminder of how it works and why it is different from buying in a retail situation.
Firstly, even though access to salerooms in the pandemic are generally restricted these days, you can still bid in a number of ways: leave a commission bid, bid by phone or via the internet. Whichever you choose to do, the first thing you will have to do is register. If you want to bid in the room itself, give yourself plenty of time to fill in the registration form and pick up a numbered paddle. Information required will include your name, address, a contact phone number and email address.
The auctioneer will need similar details if you leave a commission bid or wish to bid by phone, and they may also require credit or debit card details at that point. If you bid live via the internet, you are likely to be doing so on one of the live auction platform portals such as the-saleroom.com and will have to register via them. They will take you through the simple, step-by-step registration process and will also require credit card details. Again, leave plenty of time to do this before the sale starts so that you don’t miss the opportunity to bid on the item you are interested in.
When the lot you are interested in comes up for sale, the auctioneer will announce it from the rostrum and ask for an opening bid, or will declare that they already have an opening bid on commission (usually announced as “with me”).
More on buying at auction next week.
Of great interest in the past week has been the emergence of a collection of what are thought to be the earliest photographs taken of Sussex. Dating to 1851 and depicting portraits, as well as rural scenes around Horsham, they were the work of Captain Thomas Honeywood, a well-known local figure who led the volunteer fire brigade in the town, a body of men who appear in the crowd of one of the scenes that he captured.
Estimated to make up to £70,000 at auction later this month, the real value of this collection is not only in its capturing of early views of the county and its folk, but in the way is brings history and our connection with the past alive.
Many of the portraits show people in their finery, with a finger tucked into the pages of a book, as though they have just been interrupted reading. Why so? Among other things to convey the message to anyone looking at the image that this was a person who could read and was a cut above the hoi polloi.
Perhaps even more reassuring is just how familiar many of the country scenes remain today. For all the industrial and commercial development of the 20th century, with its urban sprawl, cottages, farms and hillsides survive now as they did then. So these photos are not simply historic records, they are food for the soul. Long may this be the case.