Hammer up... hammer down...

29 May 2020
As auctions start to pick up again John Morgan, from Sheffield Auction Gallery, talks us through the world of online sales

Perhaps beyond school boy Latin or an auctioneers stock Latin of 'caveat emptor' - the origins of the word auction come from the Latin - 'auctum' broadly translated as 'I increase'. Through history this is usually what happens to a price in an auction - it goes up. Bid with a hand, a wink, a nod, a wave, written down, or on a telephone and now as technology advances and times change through the technology of the internet.  

Auctions date back in history many thousands of years to the Roman and Greek empires, however the modern auction as perhaps it is known today started to gain some favour in the 18th century with Christies being founded by James Christie in the 1760's. The development of auction's since then has seen advances in technology that have been game changes - photography perhaps one area that comes to mind, but it is unlikely there has been a more influential change than the dawn of the internet. 

There are 2 developments in the world of auctions in the last 50 years that have at times created significant commentary - the dawn of the buyers commission in 1975, and in the early 2000's the dawn of auction on line marketing and bidding. However, both appear to be here to stay and in these challenging times the world of the internet and on-line bidding are key to running an auction at minimum risk to all.         

Buying from online auctions

To help ensure you do not get your fingers burnt in the modern world of auctions, here are some tips to help from the rostrum:   

1. Once you have identified a lot you may be interested in read the description carefully and study the photograph - if you require any further information contact the auction house for a more detailed description often referred to as a 'Condition Report', or ask a  specific question.  

2. If the photograph/s available on line are not enough or the angle you require is not pictured, ask the auctioneers to send you further images. 

3. Condition reports and extra photographs take time to process,and during these times requests have increased many fold so get your requests in early to avoid any disappointment.   

4. When it comes to registering to take part in the auction always try and register in plenty of time. You may experience teething problems or if there is a question over your registration it can take time to resolve. 

5. Once the auction starts, get involved with your bidding as soon as you can. Remember you can see the auctioneer, they cannot see you so cannot use any other sign of your intention other than you pressing the button and participating. 

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6. Online auctions are often slower than those in different times, so if you are planning your timing take this into account. Ask the auction house how many lots per hour they might do.  

7. Although auctioneers may be closed to public attendance, bidding on line may not be the only way you can participate - you maybe able to leave direct commission bids with the auctioneers, or book a telephone line. Contact the auctioneer to find out all the options. 

8. Be sure you are aware of all the charges you may have to pay depending on how you intend to bid to avoid any surprises and to help you set your limit. 

9. In these strange times remember to plan carefully how you pare to get hold of your winning lots and do not get caught out by size, weight or cost. Options might include pack and post direct from the auctioneer, courier, mail companies and some auction houses may have a limited direct and controlled collection service. If you are unsure speak to the auctioneers before the auction and get any relevant quotes.   

10. After the sale if you are experiencing any challenges over your purchase, contact the auctioneers and keep them informed.

11. Occasionally items may go unsold during a sale. If you are interested in any of these items contact the auctioneers direct after the sale to see if a deal can be done on these items.     

Remember when the hammer goes down... it's sold. Stay safe, good luck and happy hunting.