By Mark A. Roeder

Bidders at auctions often amuse me. At a recent sale the bidders demonstrated a dual-mentality that I’ve seen on several occasions. Each bidder wanted to walk away with a steal, but were equally determined not to be outbid. As each antique was held up for sale, all was silent until the asking price plummeted, but once the bidding started the competition was fierce. While entertaining, it wasn’t a good day for buying. I was outbid on a pie safe, marble-topped table, chocolate pot, and several other items that caught my eye. I walked away at the end of the sale with little more than a day of cheap entertainment, but I did not despair for every auction is different. I’ve attended hundreds and know that while one yields nothing, others are a treasure trove.

It’s easy to get discouraged. Sometimes, the other bidders seem to have limitless funds and at other times, they seem to have lost their minds, but if one keeps going back the good buys and even the bargains will come. Below are a few points to keep in mind when attending a sale.

Don’t Be Scared Away By Others:

Don’t let the apparent interest of others scare you off. Everyone and his brother may be looking at the 1950s kitchen table and chair set you have your eye on, but few of them will be serious about buying it. Most who look at an item are doing just that, looking. Dozens of auction-goers may scrutinize a piece carefully without any true interest. Many are merely curious and most of the rest are checking out the piece just in case it goes cheap. Some are bored and have nothing better to do. Think of it this way, how many times have you looked something over without being seriously interested in it?

The exact situation has happened to me more often than I can relate. In one instance long ago, I spotted a beautiful Native American rug, circa 1880, at a household auction. I was delighted, first because I was looking for just such a rug, and second because no one at this auction was likely to know it was worth well over $200 (today it is worth much more). Much to my annoyance bidder after bidder looked at the rug. One lady in particular examined it thoroughly more than once. I began to fear that others at the auction were well aware of what the rug was worth and would make me pay dearly for it, if I could get it at all. I had a very limited amount of cash with me and determined that I couldn’t go higher than $75.

Finally, after numerous quilts and blankets, the rug came up for bids. I was sure it would be a tough battle. The auctioneer asked for a starting bid of two-fifty, not $250, but $2.50. At this point I figured the auctioneer had no idea of the value, but the other bidders would soon educate him. I bid, the auctioneer asked for $5. Silence. Within seconds I had purchased my rug for $2.50. Not only was the competition not hot, it wasn’t even present. Numerous people had scrutinized the rug, but they weren’t truly interested in buying. They were merely looking out of curiosity. Don’t let the apparent interest of others scare you off; chances are the lookers are just looking.

Don’t Be Scared Of Dealers:

Time and again I hear collectors release a sigh of dismay because they have spotted a couple of dealers at an auction. They assume that the dealers are going to snatch up every good piece and outbid everyone. Sometimes dealers do seem to pay outrageous prices, but this is the exception and not the rule. Dealers cannot pay top value for antiques and expect to make a profit. Any collector who is seriously interested in an antique can usually outbid the dealer. The hierarchy goes something like this: dealers outbid bargain hunters, collectors and investors outbid dealers, and those with no idea of what they are doing outbid everyone. When dealers purchase something they plan to sell it to a collector. They can’t pay as much as a collector. Collectors have the advantage. They don’t have to worry about selling a piece quickly and they don’t have all the expenses of a dealer. The only person who might be scared off by a dealer is another dealer. As a collector you will have the upper hand.

Dealing With Other Bidders:

Unfortunately there are a few bidders out there who delight in running up the price on others. These individuals are few and far between, but they do exist. I know of one such individual. He delights in the attention he receives by running up the prices and he likes to make eye contact with the other bidder so that bidder knows just who it is that is ruining his day. This desire for attention is his Achilles heal, in order to perform for the other bidder and the crowd, he needs to know who else is bidding. I have found that one of the best ways to deal with such an individual is to make it impossible for him to tell when I’m bidding. It isn’t difficult to disappear for a few moments in a crowd. Before the antagonist can figure out who is bidding, the piece is sold and the opportunity to gain attention is over. I often disappear when items I don’t want are being sold as well, just to keep the antagonist guessing.

Most bidders who run up the price are not doing so for attention. Competition is the name of the game at auctions. Whomever is willing to pay the most walks away with the item up for bids. Most bidders are genuinely interested in the item and are merely trying to purchase it like the rest of us. When a spiteful bidder does appear don’t get mad, just make it difficult for them to pick on you as a target. If they can’t tell who is bidding the fun of running up the price is gone.

Don’t Get Discouraged:

It’s easy to get discouraged when one attends a few auctions in a row without being able to make a purchase. It seems that the rest of the world is against you, the prices are high, and everything of interest catches the eye of everyone. After a few such auctions a collector can become discouraged. All the studying, planning, and high hopes are crushed. But fear not! An auction or two down the road will make up for it all. Suddenly, one finds oneself making numerous trips to the car and straining under the weight of goodies, when before all purchases could be held in one hand. One auction like this every few weeks makes it all worthwhile.

If the prices are too high and the other bidders won’t let you buy, save your money and bide your time. The opportunity to make pleasing purchases will come and when it does it will make up for all those auctions that you left empty handed. Don’t get discouraged; a fantastic auction is just around the corner.