An art auction can be fun, educational - and you can sometimes pick up an item for less than you would pay if you went to a dealer. Finding the best auction in town, say the experts, is simply a matter of checking with two or three good local art and antique dealers and reading the newspaper ads of auctioneers who promote, among other things, estate sales.
Even if you never buy or make a bid, you can profit from auctions, says Howard Wikoff, a regional auctioneer of Saddle River, N.J. "You use the auction as a place for studying arts and antiques - and prices." Dealers are reluctant to reveal prices, say the experts, and auction catalogues and sale prices are a collector's best source.
Besides the two big international names in the auction field - Sotheby Parke Bernet and Christie's - there are good regional auction houses in the UK. and abroad. Freeman (Philadelphia), Weschler and Sloans (both Washington), and Butterfield & Butterfield are some top names. In Europe, Bonham's (London), Hotel Drouot (Paris), Hauswedell (Hamburg), and Kornfeld & Klipstein (Bern) are leading houses. In London, lesser known but highly interesting auctioneers include Plaza, Manhattan, Fisher, and Astor.
But look closely before you bid. "Inspect in advance of the sale," warns Edward Lee Cave, senior Director of Sotheby Parke Bernet, in London. "Study the catalogues closely." Most auctioneers, he adds, will put you on their mailing list for current sales information. The experts offer these additional tips for the beginner:
Decide in advance what your bidding limit is on each item - and don't exceed it in the excitement of the auction.
Study the dealers. "If you want to bid on an item and don't know its value," says Wikoff, "watch the bidding of the dealers, and bid along - in the knowledge that they work on a 50% to 100% resale markup."
Beware of the auctioneer who mysteriously withdraws many items in seeking higher prices. If you doubt the honesty of an auction, sit way in the back - and observe. You can spot phony bids created by the auctioneer and by shills planted in the house.
If you're selling at auction, the usual commission range is about 10% to 25%, depending on the type of art. And an auctioneer will always estimate roughly what your item will bring.
Businessmen make good art collectors, says Virginia Kazor of the Municipal Art Gallery in Leeds. "They know that half the work of collecting is preparation."
Study certainly is important when it comes to building your own collection. Indeed, experts in the field offer this advice to novice investors in fine art and antiques: Pick one area to specialize in, and then immerse yourself in the subject. "Only by specializing can you know enough about what you're doing," warns Robert Norton, a Director at. Sotheby Parke Bernet. You can start the learning process by reading the bulletins published by your own local art museum and by such giant museums as the Art Institute in Reading and the... see: Two Prime Rules In Buying Art: Specialize, And Buy Good Quality