Sunday, 25 July 2010

Going to auction

At certain times of the year, I eat, sleep, breathe auctions. But statistically speaking, apparently 85% of the French population have never set foot in an auction house and have no idea how it all works. It's really not all that complicated in one sense: 
*you get a catalogue or see photos on line or read an ad;
*you go for a preview;
*you decide what you'd like to buy;
*you set a maximum that you are willing to pay;
*you go to the auction;
*you bid;
*you win or you lose.

In another sense, it can be immensely complicated:
*sometimes photos and reality are distant cousins (any eBay shopper knows the truth of this!);
*at the preview, other people may get an idea of what you are interested in (it's a small world for any type of antiques or collectibles);
*decisions about what to buy can change during the auction itself, depending on your budget (if I get number 5, then I won't bid on number 12, but if I don't, then I could go for number 12 and number 14 ... );
*your budget has to take into account the buyer's fee (which used to be around 11% in France, until Christie's broke the monopoly - now it's an open market, and the fees are more like 19%);
*bidding at auctions is a very psychological experience - it's very easy to get carried away and spend more than you intended;
*you feel great if you win and bummed if you don't (but there's always another auction).

Catalogue auctions are the most interesting, because they are the generally the best pieces that the auction house has to offer. Catalogue auctions are one of the ways that I make my living, so obviously, I'm always keeping an eye out for what looks exciting. But in terms of my personal buying, I love what the French call a "vente courante" - it's a "stuff" auction, quite often from cleaning out houses, the French equivalent of a garage sale for people who don't want to deal with it themselves. A couple of years ago, I went with a friend to a "vente courante"; I wanted a box lot of sunhats and she wanted one of pieces of old fabrics. At this auction, everything was going to sell, and if one lot didn't, the auctioneer added it to the next one. We came home with 5 huge boxes: in addition to the sunhats and old fabrics, there were three boxes of various linens, a lot of it new ... you can always use extra pillowcases (and we do!), but I still have the SNCF sleeping-car sheets in their plastic wrapping - I'm sure there's a train buff out there who would like them - I'll send them to auction!

And what are the above photos? There's an auction going on even as I write this post!!


  1. Judy, interesting piece on the middle shelf in the last photo. It's the "duck" pitcher with the red and blue. Is that a red plaid? Do you remember selling me the yellow pitcher in that form? It's still a favorite!
    Enjoy the auction ~ Sarah

  2. Didn't Charles and Edith come from a stuff auction ?
    Who knows what you may find !

  3. Judy, always interesting, I spotted a couple things I'd like to have.

  4. i have been to a couple of general auctions but it would wonderful to experience one with pottery. they are a great place to learn.

  5. Judy, You forgot the last two steps.
    You Pay..(better plan ahead on that when you set your bid)
    You receive your items (and THAT is the best step of all!)
    I am delighted with the items I have bought at the auctions in Brittany..and it is always good to know that what it is stated to be, it WILL be! THANKS,

  6. Cerélle is right ... there is also the "You pay" part! It used to be checks or cash only (and in France, you can only pay with cash up to 3000 euros), but more auction houses are accepting credit cards and even Paypal. And also very important: by law, the auction house is legally liable for what it says it is selling. So if something turns out to be seriously misrepresented, the auction house has to take it back and refund your money.