Grab It Through A Click

Auction houses embrace the increased attendance from online bidders

Auction houses embrace the increased attendance from online bidders

Following Antiques Trader’s twitter feed, I have found this tweet a few days ago:

Question of the week: Do you participate in auction house online bidding? If not, why? E-mail:

Here is my input:

For collectors who live in New York City, online bidding may seem to be unnecessary because Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Doyle, Swann even Freeman or Skinner are all within proximity or a train ride. But missing auctions in places outside your area means missing opportunities or treasures that can make you regret forever. Plus there are auctions almost every weekend and to be physically there is not possible even with all your enthusiasm and energy. Big auction houses tend to have sales of the same categories on the same day, therefore UAA team does find that participating online bidding can be efficient and cost-saving. But here is our thoughts before you click on the mouse:

The first three items are more or less related to pre-sale examination, which quite often is not available for the online bidders.

1. Online bidding is not for everyone, especially not for beginners. There is no better way to learn than handling objects by person and talking to experts in the preview. The method to participate biding is less important than the procedure of examining items personally. Just because it is convenient to bid online does not mean you should skip your homework. In particular, if personal examination during the preview is not possible, it is in general not a good idea to purvey into some new areas in which you are not fully equipped with knowledge of history, artistic merit, maker or valuation based on condition, rarity etc.

2. Pictures lie! Do not fully trust pictures alone. Pictures are in general OK for 2D works such as paintings or prints but can poorly represent 3D objects such as chairs or porcelain. All items are of the same size on a webpage, but you need to grasp their real size by reading the description and hence comprehending true dimensions.

3. Always ask for condition report, even for items that you may have the dimmest possibility to bid. And do it at least one week before the auction. For oil paintings, make sure that the report includes black light examination, paint loss, abrasion report and frames. Always ask extra pictures with the frame, signature and the back of the canvas. For three dimensional objects, ask more pictures if possible. In the field of Chinese porcelain, in-house photographers generally skip photographing the bottom rim, mark and inside, which may provide important information. For antique chairs, pictures of tenons, stile / rails, and seat frames without cushions are informative.

Now I am going to talk about online-bidding itself.

4. Submit your registration asap. It may take one or two days to process the registration. And make sure to check the start time. Most of the online bidding platforms are built by IT companies in Silicon Valley , it is common that the start time is listed based on Pacific Standard Time.

5. Check the premium structure and the extra fee superimposed by the online bidding platform. Artfact changes 3% on top of the transaction. You can avoid that by bidding through phones although items with low estimation may not be available for phone bid.

6. Shipping should also be checked. Some auction houses like James D. Julia have their in-house shipping while other auction houses offer a list of recommended shippers. For large items, it is wise to send the inquiry to the potential shipper before bidding so that you can estimate your budget more precisely.

7. Be aware that no online bidding platform is perfect. There may occur a delay between the time you submit your bid and the time the bid is accepted. Very often, if an auctioneer pay more attention to the floor, a floor bidder can outbid you even with the same amount of bid. (In other words, floor bids tend to receive a higher priority compared to online bids.) Sometimes, your bid may not go through and the items can be sold to someone else with a lower bid. (Those fair-warning signs appear sometimes too brief to alert online bidders.) I have experienced both scenarios although they do not appear often. Don’t give up if an item ended up to someone else while you intended to bid higher, you can still call the auction house and make your case. It is possible that the hammer price didn’t meet the reserved value and you may get the second chance to bid on it again.

8. Once you are NOT limiting yourself in local auction houses, the abundance of interesting items from browsing or may carry you away. Make a list of potential items ordered chronologically and strictly vet them by giving an upper limit for the budget and a scale of desirability can help collectors stay focused in online bidding.

Overall, it is always better to personal handle and examine objects in which you are interested. But online bidding provides a remedy to bid on items when personal attendance to auction houses is not likely. Personally I have only successfully bid online once for an inexpensive item, partially because of the extra charge from the online bidding platform. I have not found it is superior to phone bidding, although some people may claim clicking on a mouse in front of a quiet computer is less intense in emotion than raising one’s hand or talking through phone, thus may lead to more rational behaviors and decisions. But in the field of antiques collecting, it is the fever or (in a better word) passion that makes an enriched collecting experience.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s