Learning Onsite Auctions
    Since most of the used items we find on eBay and in antique shops come from some type of auction including estate and storage auctions I decided this week to outline some of the things novice need to watch for at estate sales. I have been working auctions of all types since 1968 and still have the first piece I ever bought at an estate sale. This doesn't make me an expert as you learn something new each time you go to a sale. Sometimes what you learn can help and sometimes what you learn can be an insight into human nature, good and bad.
    Estate sales are the hardest to work but have the best items since you are looking at items that have in most cases not been on the market. These auctions will usually take place at the persons' home or in some cases the entire household has been moved to a central location to make it easier on the people attending the auction. Either way you need to be prepared since auctions of this type have become increasingly competitive with the bidders since the large group of eBay sellers are now mixed in with the antique shop buyers, the neighbors, and the family of course will be there in most instance.
There are a certain list of guidelines you need to set up for yourself in order to be successful at these auctions.
    First is to be on the auction site early unless you have a pocket full of money and just want to spend it on items you haven't fully inspected. Auctions get crowded the closer it get to the time it starts and arriving just before the sale begins means you won't get to inspect all the items. Most auctioneers and the other participates of the auction frown on people who try to look over items as they are being auctioned and besides you usually can't get a good look at a piece as it is being held up for display by the auction helper as it is being auctioned. In the past thirty years I have always tried to be the first person at the sale, usually if a sale started at ten in the morning I would be there at eight, giving me plenty of time to give the entire contents of the sale a good inspection. Paying premium for a piece of Roseville pottery without making sure it has no chips, cracks or been repaired is not a smart business move.
    Since most of these sales are set up in three different areas, Furniture, good glassware and then what is called box lots it takes time to look over all areas. Since I never buy furniture that leaves two areas to look at the premium glassware and collectibles the auction house has placed on tables and the box lots. Unless I find something I want to bid on and keep for myself I usually stay away from the premium tables as a lot of money can be spent there. Since most of the auctions I try to attend are in rural areas I have learned the farmers wife's and the antique dealers have a lot more money than I do so I generally leave the higher bidding to them.
    The tables will have the best pieces from the estate and usually the bidding will be brisk and in some cases cutthroat. The large crowds will gather around these areas so if you are going to bid here then try to do two things move to the back of the crowd and be aggressive in bidding so the auctioneer can see you and know you are serious in bidding. The reason for this is to be able to see who you are bidding against. First you can usually tell when your competition is getting ready to quit bidding or if the person has no intention of giving up, then you have to look at the situation and determine just how bad you want the piece you are bidding on.
    Second and something I haven't saw in a few years but still happens is ghost bidding. A dishonest auctioneer will appear to be pointing at another bidder behind you raising you bid until he has determined he can't get any more money out of you. This happens if you stand in front of the crowd. Again It is not as bad as it used to be since the bidders are spending more money and there are more of them so the auctioneer doesn't have to resort to unsavory tactics to get top dollar for the item. So know your bidder and be aggressive with the auctioneer making sure he keeps on top of your bid. It helps to have a person along with you not only to watch the crowd as you are bidding but to also help keep track of what you have bought.
    Usually I will buy a large number of items at a sale and these are hard to keep up with as the auctioneer moves about the auction site. In every area I have attended auctions there have been at least one instance where one or more persons have been at the auction for the sole purpose of stealing what someone else have bought. Sometimes you will have to just pile up what you have bought in one location if you are alone as the auctioneer moves fast and you want to be there to bid as he moves. If you have a partner at the auction you can have the person move the items to your vehicle as you are bidding. Grandkids make great helpers until they get old enough to find other more interesting things to do on a weekend.
    Boxlots are the most interesting at estate sales. As the auction house inventories the household items and separates the items as they want to sale them the cheaper and more common pieces will end up in boxes with several or more pieces per box. The boxes are usually stacked on tables, farm wagons or laid out in rows on the ground. This is the main reason I go early to estate sales. Good bargains can be found in these boxes but it takes time to search each box and know what is in them and where the best boxes are located so you can remember when to bid and on what box.
    This is where human nature rears its ugly head. It is a constant problem of people stuffing boxes, what I mean by that is moving pieces from one box to another making up boxes they want to bid on thereby getting the best pieces in all the box lots. In a way it has become a game between bidders. Keeping the pieces moved to the box you want them in can be hard to do. If you find some boxes you want to bid on make sure just before the auctioneer starts to call on the boxes the pieces you want are in the box you are bidding on. In some cases I will move the items back to their original boxes and inform the auctioneer of what is going on or I will bid against the person who has stuffed the box making sure they pay top dollar for their actions. Either way the auction house usually won't say anything as the box lots usually don't bring enough money to offend bidder.
    Finally there are certain tools you need to have with you as you make you inspection of the auction items. One is a jewelers fop. I always carry a small one in my pocket to view signatures on jewelry, silverware and sometimes toys and pottery the signatures are not clear on. Next is a small tape measure, depending on what you generally buy dictates the size of measure you want to carry around. I keep a small 36 inch tape measure on my key ring which is usually all I need. Always carry a good ink pen with you. The auction house usually will give you a card with a number on used as identification for payment at the end of the auction. As you bid and win an item the auction secretary will record the item and the number on your card. Keep a total of everything you buy so at the end of the auction you can compare your total to the auction house total you owe. This is not saying the auction house will be dishonest, auctions move fast and mistakes are made using the number system. A lot of auction houses have started using computer systems to record each wining bid but even they make mistakes. So make sure you have pen and pad to record what you win.
    For the past year I have been taking a laptop computer along with me when I go to auctions. I have all the price guides on the computer so I can instantly find the value of a piece if I need to. Also if you can log onto an unsecured service around the auction house you can use the internet to find what is selling online at eBay. With the new higher level phones on the market you ca also reach the internet through your phone service anywhere. There is a lot to learn about estate sales and they are a great way to spend the day meeting people and having a good time buying and seeing lots of things you normally don't see. So if you are going to an estate sale be prepared and enjoy the day.
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