Antique Auctions: Know How the Auction Process Works

Antique auctions are the stuff of theatre and carry with them an air of luxury and wealth. We all have the image in mind of fine antiques and collectibles up on the auction block with fast-talking and smooth antique auctioneer crisply starting the bidding. We picture a room full of wealthy people with paddles bidding and driving the price up, creating drama. You might have antiques to sell at auction and wondering what the process is really right. You might be looking to buy but you are new to auctions. In this article we are providing you with antique auction guide to get you started and explain how the auction process works.

What is an Antique Auction?

Let’s start with the basics. An auction brings together items (usually antiques, houses, vehicles, luxury items, artwork, and other valuable collectibles that have been appraised for a certain value) that are being put up for sale at the auction with buyers who will bid on the items. Antique auctioneers serve as the middleman between them. The bidding starts at a base price and people bid against each other, driving the price up. At some point the bidding concludes and the person who placed the highest bid wins the items. If you have ever bid for something on eBay, it is a lot like that.

Antique Auction

An Antique Auction Starts with a Preview Period

One of the most important steps in the antique auction process starts before bidding begins. It is called the preview period. During the preview period potential bidders have the chance look the items up for auction over and assess their interest in them. There is usually an auction guide or catalog available ahead of time for people to look at. Once a buyer (or someone who will act as a buyer’s agent) has determined that they will bid for an item, they have to register with the auctioneer and provide identification and other information, such as the financial ability to cover their bids. The preview period can last from a few days before the auction right up to a few hours before it begins.

Antique Auctioneer

How an Antique Auction Begins

At the set time the auction will begin when the auctioneer announces the opening of bidding and goes over the terms and conditions. Then the first lot will be placed for bidding. As each item comes up for bidding there will be a starting price. The starting price is set by the seller, usually after the item has been appraised to determine its value. The starting price is designed to be the lowest price that a seller is will to sell for. It is designed to be low enough that people will be willing to bid and drive the price up.

Antique Auctions Begininng

The Exciting Part- The Bidding

Now we come to the dramatic part- the bidding. This is the part of the auction that is often depicted on stage and screen. At a live antique auction, the auctioneer starts the bidding on an item and buyers, or their agents, who are sitting in the audience, hold up paddles to place a bid at the current price being called out by the auctioneer. It can be a swiftly moving and exciting process when there are numerous bids or a “bidding war” between two buyers. The bidding ends when the auctioneer calls out, “sold”. This usually happens when there are no bids being placed because the price has become two high for any new bids. The auctioneer calls out a final chance and then, “going, going, gone!” Then the item is won by the person who bid the highest.

Antique Biding

Online Antique Auctions

Obviously, online auctions are an increasing part of antique auctions these days. Some auctions are even a mix of in person and online. The process of a preview period and bidding are basically the same. However, the buyers have the option of previewing the items up for bid and bidding from the comfort of their own homes. It is likely that the popularity of websites like eBay and the reality of how things are done in pandemic times will lead to online auctions increasing.