15 August 2013

Secret Auction Tactics

This is a really lovely French frosted
glass vase, c1930.  It's 30cm tall so
is much larger than you usually find.
It will be offered at the Nambour
Antiques Fair, if not sold before.
It's $320, which is less than half of
what you would pay for something
of comparable size and quality in
Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane.
In the last fortnight we stumbled across what turned out to be the best antiques auction we’ve ever attended in Australia.  And it was in Kybong, of all places.  Never heard of Kybong?  Neither have most people.  And that was a good thing in terms of great prices for the punters.  We had no idea the auction was planned and only found it by accident as we travelled north to meet friends for lunch.

A couple of the major auction houses from Melbourne and Brisbane organised it, and because it was being held in Kybong they planned to have a live feed to enable internet bidding.  The auctioneer told me that a great many people had registered to bid online.  But did anyone think to check the internet speed available in a little out of the way spot in the middle of nothing much in Queensland?  No they did not.  So that meant that almost all of the internet bidders were thwarted, and that left just us in the room and a few phone bidders.  Yay!  So wow, there were bargains to be had.  Even someone like me, who has an uncanny gift – it’s totally my Super Power – to compel every person in the room to bid on anything I have expressed an interest in – even I was able to snag some great buys.
It's a rare day that I can photograph something 
without Mischka, my trusty Photographer's
Assistant, helping out.  This is a large blue
glazed ceramic vase by Denby, c1960.  It's 29cm   
tall, making it bigger than I can usually source.
The glaze is mottled deep to sky blue.  It's $110.
This is one of the nicest jug and basin sets we've
offered for a long time.  It's by Cauldon, an
English brand, and dates to about 1930.
It's $375, which is several hundred dollars
less than I would have had to charge for it
in the shop.  My lack of retail expenses is
your lack of retail prices.
The trouble is, our next buying trip is in about a month and funds are tight thanks to Malcolm (see Blog of 25 June), so it wasn’t the best time to be buying things for ourselves.  It’s always preferable to have enough money to buy wonderful things when you’re in Paris, I say.  And yet, and yet … there were nice things that I just couldn’t resist.  Most notable was a very nice French baker’s bench which I intend for our kitchen-to-be, but if it doesn’t fit it will be snapped up quickly enough as soon as I publically offer it. 

I also bought three lovely items, two vases and a jug & basin set, that I will present for sale at the Nambour Antiques Fair on 7 September, unless they sell first.  They are high quality pieces but I did such good buying and I no longer have to charge retail prices, so I will be able to offer them at considerably less than I’d have had to in the shop.  That’s always good.

This is a French Bally Shoes
advertisement from 1958.  Soon
I will be offering reproductions
of my best images, including
this one.  The reproduction will
be A3 size, so somewhat bigger
than the original, which is A4.
The reproduction image is
outstandingly good, produced
on one of the best copy machines
in the country.  Reproduction is
$12, and the original while I
have it is $46.
Even though we didn’t buy much at this auction, it reminded me of the auction tactics I’m likely to see used during our buying trip.  Nothing is going to stop a cashed-up punter prepared to bid silly amounts, and you’d be surprised at how often people get over-excited at auctions and lose all reason.  But there are still some tactics that can make your rivals hesitate, and most dealers use them.  Heed me now, Grasshoppers, while I divulge some secrets of the trade:
First of all, forget everything you’ve ever seen on TV about people twitching their eyebrow and that counts as a bid.  You’re allowed to have facial tics and they won’t accidentally cost you a lot of money.  But you can’t wriggle too much.  I often develop an irrational and overwhelming need to scratch my head in the middle of bidding, but I always try to control myself because putting your hand up does indeed count as a bid.  You don’t have to make eye contact with the auctioneer to make a bid, although it’s something I always make a point of doing.  But I’ve seen heaps of pretentious plonkers feign bored disinterest while they bid, pretending to read a newspaper while casually putting up their hand.  Auctioneers are very indulgent of pretentious plonkers, and will always accept this type of bid. 

So don’t accidentally present yourself as a pretentious plonker, because waving your hand in the air counts as a bid even if you’re really just flapping away a fly while you look out the window.  You might get away once with spluttering that you weren't bidding even though you put your hand up.  But do it again and you'll be asked to leave the auction room because this is business, people, with sometimes very large amounts of money on the table and you have to take it seriously.
This is another of the French Bally
Shoe advertisements that I will be
offering in reproduction, but the
original is also on offer for now.
When I had the shop, Bally was the
most asked-after shoe brand when
people were looking through my
French advertisements.  And
why not?  They produced lovely
ads for their lovely (albeit
hideously expensive) shoes.
The reproduction of this ad will
be $12, and the original $46.
But putting your hand up, however you do it, isn’t an auction tactic - it’s just how you do business in an auction room.  As for tactics, there are some great ones you can employ, some fun, some risky, and some variable in their success depending on who your opposition is.  A bold tactic is colloquially known as Blasting them out of the water. 
Picture the scene:  you’re at a major art auction at Sotheby’s.  The room is full of extremely well dressed and tremendously rich people.  On a platform at the side of the room is a row of Sotheby’s staff manning a bank of telephones and computers for anonymous and international bidders.  The bidding has reached a stupendous level and is going up by increments of $100,000.  The room is hushed and tense.  Just then, a mystery person dressed all in black and wearing sunglasses inside, strides into the room and interrupts proceedings to loudly announce their bid, which is five times over the current bid.  The crowd gasps, all rival bidders are dumbfounded, Sold! cries the auctioneer.

Aw, inne cute?  This is Marly, the 8 week old
builder's baby.  When he's not following Caleb
about, Caleb is following him about.  Mischka 
hates him, which is to be expected because
she hates everything new that appears at
 our house.  But she still can't help herself from
 following him about as well.
 Yeah, we’ve all seen this in the movies.  But this tactic really is used in real life, although usually on a less impressive scale.  Auctions always proceed in set increments, whether it’s $5 increments or $100,000 increments.  So it’s a gamble when you up the bidding by a lot more than the next increment, because you might end up spending a lot more than you had to.  But it can also be a great way to shut down an auction - if you employ this tactic at the right moment you can spook your rivals into backing off by appearing to have plenty of money and making them feel that it’s all getting too expensive.  Auction prices can reach surprisingly high levels when they go up bit by bit, in small increments, because people always seem able justify to themselves “just one more bid”.  So by blasting them out of the water with a big jump in the bidding you can actually end up paying a lot less than you would have, because your rivals are demoralised into stopping.

Marly is allowed outside without a leash,
but Caleb is not.  Not fair!!!
But boy this is a gamble, and it depends on how experienced your opponents are.  It can work well when you’re bidding against punters – no offence punters, but you are often inexperienced in auctions and if allowed to keep bidding by small increments you’ll just end up bidding silly amounts.  So you must be shut down.  But if you’re going up against an experienced bidder who knows exactly what you’re up to, the results can be variable.  And that’s because experienced bidders know the secret to use against someone trying to blast them out of the water:  just because your rival has bid an extra-high amount to scare you off, you don’t have to bid a similarly large amount – you can just bid the auction’s next increment.  Lots of punters don’t realise this, so they stop as soon as the extra-high bid is announced.

I have a couple of extremely stylish
fashion shots from a 1950s French
magazine.  Just look at that waist.
This frock is by Jacques Fath, who
also produced really nice lingerie.
The A3 reproduction image will be
$12, but the A4 original is 
available for now for $34.
I once took on a pretentious plonker who was determined to blast me out of the water.  This man appeared to have limitless funds, and affected bored indifference as he bid without looking, while reading his newspaper.  I was really put out at him getting everything I wanted, because after investing a day at an auction I want to walk away with lots of goodies even though I don’t have limitless funds.  So when it became apparent that he would bid whatever it took to secure an item and that occasionally he would dispense with a rival by blasting them out of the water, I decided Game On.  But only with one lot, because I didn’t want him to realise that I was playing him and have the tables turned on me.  So just for one lot, every time he bid extra high, I just bid the next increment.

I have 8 May Gibbs bookplates that date from the
1920s to 1950s.  The originals are smallish because
they are from a childrens' book but the reproductions
will be a decent A3 size.  The originals are $25, and
reproductions $12.  This one is called
Out Riding with Ann Chovy.
So if you can imagine it, he was sitting there saying $500, and me saying “and 50”.  So he says “$700” and I say “and 50”.   And so on.  It got scary, let me tell you, because I didn’t want the item we were bidding on that much.  Doug came and sat next to me and hissed What are you doing???  I’ll stop in a minute, I whispered out the side of my mouth. 

Eventually I lost my nerve and stopped bidding, but not before my rival had paid large for whatever the item was – I don’t even remember.  But I do remember my heart pounding as the price went up and up.  I was hoping like mad that he didn’t realise that I was just pushing him for the sake of it, and this wouldn’t be the one occasion in the entire auction that he gave up on something he wanted.  But he didn’t, and even though I did get blasted out of the water in the end, the tactic didn’t work as intended because he had to do it a lot before he won, rather than just once.  And I bowed out with lots of childish giggling.  It was fun!  Though let me say now in my most Serious Adult Voice that it was also silly and could have cost us a lot of money if it backfired and you shouldn’t try that at home. 
May Gibbs produced some really charming
images and it's little wonder that she
is an Australian classic.  This picture 
is called A Busy Highroad. 
Though it was fun.

As a general rule, when you’re not dealing with childish and vengeful rivals like me, Blasting them out of the water can be such a successful tactic in shutting down an auction that many mid-range auction houses in England don’t allow it.  Australian auction houses usually do let you do it, and the really prestigious auction houses in both countries also generally allow it because doesn’t do to insult ultra-rich clients, whatever games they are playing.  The only way to discover an auction house’s policy is to just try it – either they’ll get all snippy and inform you that you may bid only the next increment, or they’ll let you take control and bid whatever you want.

Work is still happening at our building
site - which now looks like a bomb
site.  I've wanted terraces cut
into the hill immediately below
our house for years, and now it's
done.  Raw earth everywhere for
now, but it will settle down
soon enough.
In a future Blog I shall divulge other auction tactics that are easier and less risky than Blasting them out of the water.  Perhaps I’ll talk about the simple tactic I used at Kybong.  But first I’ll see if I end up at any auctions on the buying trip and let you know what tactics were used.  We were planning to attend an auction in Cornwall, but have abandoned that idea to have a Play Day instead, and go on what is considered the best steam railway trip in the world, up in the Highlands of Scotland.  It's the train they used as the Hogwarts Express for the Harry Potter movies, which goes along the route that was partially filmed for the movies.  Sounds more fun than sitting in a stuffy old auction room all day.
This is about half of the stumps for the rest of our house.  Some of the post holes are almost 2m deep, so we're well into bedrock and no matter how hard the wind blows - and it blows hard up at the mountain stronghold - the house isn't going anywhere.  Thank goodness it hasn't rained for a week, because it was a boggy quagmire before that.