Auctioneers Reign Supreme in their Palaces, 1st March


My Entry is All about Auctioneers Power During Auctions

Have you been to a live auction?

Have you seen how auctioneers conduct their business?

Have you seen bidders screaming at auctioneers for malpractises?

Have you been under the hammer yourself?

Any auction room has its rules and regulations when conducting their business and the individual auctioneers at various auctions have their own too. Thus, you will see fast and slow auctioneers, strict and gloomy ones, happy and humorous auctioneers but also auctioneers who demand a penny more for the business they serve. which makes unhappy the buyers but happy the sellers. My entry today is about auctioneers of twenty years ago and tomorrow the auctioneers of today, who are recorded and sell live on the internet, thus transparency and fair auctioning is virtually guaranteed.

I was bidding but you did not see me!

John Lucas

(British (1807-1874) Mid-nineteenth century English artist who painted exquisite, figurative paintings and portraits. Auction price range £2000 -8000)

7th February 1994, North London

An auction I had not heard of before was advertising a mixed sale that included some good Victorian painters in the Antiques Gazette. It happened to be close to my residence so there was nothing to lose if I viewed the sale. Although not expecting much, as I was very aware that names meant nothing when advertised by small, nearly unknown auctions, I set off to indulge my passion.

On entering the viewing room it was clear to me that the one owner sale was a shouting case of ‘from riches to rags’. It was a bankruptcy sale. The room was full of tasteless, expensive furniture and pottery, carpets I wouldn’t look at twice and bric-a-brac of no mention. However, there were a few Victorian paintings, especially two large canvases that merited closer inspection and checking.

One was a figurative painting by John Lucas and the other a landscape by Edward Williams. I was drawn to the former entitled ‘The Forsaken’. A large, impressive, early Victorian painting in a beautiful ornate frame and in good condition, it portrayed two seated angelic-looking sisters staring straight out of the canvas drawing the viewer in. They were the personification of youth and loveliness. I liked it, even though I had fallen out with Victorian art long ago. Research through my bank of catalogues and Art Reference Indexes at home revealed that the painting was a worthwhile investment at its estimate of £2000-3000.

The auction took place in an industrial estate. Few people were present and no familiar faces. There was an eerie silence and apprehension before the auction and nerves, plenty of nerves! The bidding on the Lucas started sluggishly. Hundred by hundred it reached two thousand. With a little interest from a couple of other bidders to my great satisfaction the Lucas was knocked down to me at £2500 pounds, or was it?

Suddenly and out of nowhere, a gentleman put up his hand and said, “ I was bidding and the auctioneer did not see me.” To my horror and dismay the auctioneer re-opened the bidding. Auctioneers are the masters of the auction and it is up to them to open the bidding again, to cancel a sale or re-offer a lot. I was at his mercy.

What was I supposed to do? Re-opening bidding had never happened to me before. Such an event was manna for the auctioneer and the vendors. I could do nothing but either stop bidding at that point or obey the rules of the game. I had seen this before with auctioneers milking more and more out of the bidders, but I never expected this to happen to me. Nevertheless, I accepted it stoically, remaining outwardly calm although seething inside. I hadn’t seen the man bidding or noticed his hand up, even though he was sitting a few seats away in front of me.

Foolishly, I carried on with my bidding, which in the end reached £4500. What on earth possessed me to go over my top limit by three thousand pounds! I was absolutely livid. I was furious with the auctioneer who could have refused this intervention, but I was far angrier with myself for bidding on something way above my limit and far more than warranted.

To overpay at auction on any item is common, but to overpay by such an amount and after the bidding had been re-opened was madness! I had blown away £2,300 in a minute! That was my profit gone! I was convinced. I valued the painting close to six thousand pounds and on a good day eight thousand. By paying five thousand at that auction, I had kissed goodbye any possible profits. All of a sudden I was on the other side of the fence, the loss making one!

It was unforgivable for an experienced investor. It was unwise and stupid to carry on bidding as if it were the boom times of 1988-1990. I had failed myself. My iron will of those years had melted away in that auction. The pressure of being so much in the red at the bank had affected my decision-making to such a degree that I became reckless. It was a terrible state of mind. Two terrible investments in the Knight and the Lucas threatened to derail the work done with third-rated artists of £300-500 each.

The strict maths applied over the past four years were thrown away on a painting that I bought on sentiment rather than on cool mathematical calculations. Auction adrenalin and passion for paintings had overridden the wisdom of investing sensibly and buying cleverly. There were no excuses. I had made a regrettable mistake. My experience in bidding secretly and discreetly at auction was thrown out of the window that day. I had to remind myself:

· Never let auction events derail your plans and bidding targets.

· Stick to your plans and, if unable to do so, never get involved in bidding wars that ultimately end in tears.

· Victorian art ought to be avoided at any cost as it is neither trendy nor profitable.

The auctioneer has a discretion to act as he/she likes in her own saleroom. Accept a bid, refuse a bid, start or restart a bidding, stop the bidding, withdraw a lot, refuse entry to a person in a sale and many other things they have in their sleeves in order to conduct their business in a fair and honest way. This is more so today with the internet assisting everybody to a an open, fair and just auction system. In spite of all the above, can there be shady parts or issues in the auction business today?

Read the new entry in my Blog tomorrow! Find out how it is possible for things to go wrong at auction and be out of pocket even today!

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