There are many auction houses around the world and each with different criteria on what they will take in for consignment. There are a few questions you should ask yourself before choosing an auction. In this article I will go over some of them and provide some tips to help you in your choice.
One of the first things you should do is find auction houses that handle the type of items you are looking to sell. Once you have found a few auction houses you will need to look at their consignment policy. Auction houses like Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Bonham’s just to name a few of the top world wide auction houses do not take in consignments under a certain value. They will sometimes refer you to another auction house that might be better suited to sell your items. There are a lot of mid range auction houses that handle a lot more of your general type auctions. For instance Bunte’s Auction Services(Illinois, United States), Vickers and Hoad (Sydney Australia), and Stanton’s (Michigan, United States). This is a very small list, there are thousands of auction houses that fall in this category, these are just a few that I have dealt with and had an enjoyable experience. There is another type of auction house that does a lot of low end turn over they hold more of garage sale type auctions and are good to use after spring cleaning. I would avoid using these types of auction houses if possible. Most of these auction houses offer specialty sales my favorite being the phonograph auction Stanton’s holds two times a year.
After you have narrowed your findings down to a handful of auction houses you should then compare what they have to offer you for the best price. You want to make sure your items are getting the best exposure for the best price. Don’t think the cheapest price is the best. If your items don’t receive proper advertising and exposure to the market that will be most interested in buying your items then you will not get the value that you should out of your item. Fees to take into consideration are seller’s premium (this is a % or flat fee charged by the auction house to sell your item) this fee is usually a percentage of the hammer price and range on average from 10-35% based on the value of the item. Remember, this fee can always be negotiated. There are usually fees for photo’s in the mailers and catalogues, transportation fees, and buyback (this is where the auction house has to buyback and item due to it not selling because of a reserve that is too high or the buy decides they do not want to sell the item after it has sold) fees on some reserves. This fee usually only applies if you have set your reserve higher then the estimated price and the item does not sell. This is to cover the costs the auction house incurred for advertising and to relist the item again. Ask if there are any other fees that you may be charged.
Now that we have covered fees of auctions, we will go into the time frame. This will depend on your personal situation. An auction house has a basic auction schedule they create for the year adding in auctions where need be (usually specialty auctions). This can make your wait from about a month to 12 months. Most of the time the average wait is one to three months, this gives the auction house time to advertise and catalogue your items properly. Also note not all your items may go in the same auction. This can play a big or small part in what auction house you choose depending on your situation.
Now that you have an auction house in mind that you want to sell at, there are a few things you should know when you take your items to the auction house and a few do’s and don’ts to make it so you are not one of the annoying consignors they come to dislike.
Most of the auction houses will not auction an item that is not in there possession. This means your item will stay at there auction house or storage area. Most auction houses carry insurance to cover the items in there possession. You may just want to ask about it for your piece of mind. If the item is of high value $100,000 or more then you want to make sure it is covered and where it will be stored.
If you are going to set a reserve on an item you will want to talk to the specialist for your item (i.e. mechanical music specialist for a phonograph). This person may be a specialist in many different fields. The reserve is usually set at 75% of the low end estimate. If you want your reserve higher, the auction house can choose to not take your item or charge you a fee if it does not sell. Items with a low value usually don’t get a reserve. You can call an auction house and place a reserve on an item at anytime but I would advise not doing this after 3 days prior to the auction. Your reserve may not get on the auctioneer sheet in time.
Things to remember and ask when you take your consignment to an auction house.
You will want to ask when the pay out for the item(s) will be. This will vary from auction house to auction house. It can take anywhere from a week to 30-35 days. Remember to get an itemized list of your items before you leave the auction house.
After your items are consigned you can always withdraw them from an auction. If you want your item back you should pull it from the auction before it is sold. Once it is sold it can be very difficult to get the item back. Most items when bought are picked up the same day. Dealers and buying agents are some of the main buyers and either have the item(s) already sold prior to the auction or will put it in their shop straight away.
You can always call the auction house and ask when your items are going up for auction, how much they sold for, and what you have left to sell. Here is a tip if you are going to call and ask any of these questions do not call during the auction. If you want to know what is going up for auction, call about five to seven days prior to the auction. If you want to find out what sold, how much, and what is left call about four days after the auction. This will keep you from becoming known as an annoying consignor.
You are not required to attend an auction you are selling in but you can go and watch the items being auctioned. Just remember, it is against the rules to bid on your items to run the price up. If you want your item back, make sure to pull it before the auction. Having your friends run the bid up also is not allowed but your friend can bid if they would like the item. If you have any questions about this process, you can always in list an Antique broker to assist you.