A Beginners Guide To Auctions.Part Two
Do I Really Want It
In part one I described some of the different kinds of people that are to be found at auction sales, each group with its own motivations, ideas and experience coloring and shaping their desire to buy. Dealers generally have a lot of experience across a wide range of items and really are buying for one purpose, to resell at a profit. They do of course fall into a number of different groups, there are those who have their own shops and who may or may not specialize, those who are very expert in a specialist field and who only attend an auction where they have identified an item within their particular specialty. Equally there is a group who buy speculatively attend as many auctions as they can, and purchase in the hope of placing the item with a shop or specialist dealer. These chaps are generally described by the generic term “runner” and they are to be seen at virtually every auction you attend, they all know one another and spend a lot of time in corners engaged in furtive discussion. Private buyers have become more common with the advent of reality television, which has made the antiques world far less hidden and mysterious and shown many people the real value of many things that are sometimes just lying around the house. Suddenly the man in the street is able to join what was a very closed and secretive world. These programmers are not popular with the traditional antique dealer, who feels that his market is being encroached upon, they have the knowledge and only they should be allowed to work with it. This however is contrary to the feelings of many people, why they should pay a large premium for something that they can obtain so easily for themselves. To be absolutely fair many dealers spend considerable amounts of money on restoration and presentation before they sell and for those who want to buy a specific item in restored condition the traditional dealer is probably their best port of call. However there are many who have a deep interest coupled with a degree of practical experience and who are prepared to carry out some work themselves, or to pay a specialist restorer to work for them saving in some cases quite a lot of money. Keep your eyes open listen to what others say when you are viewing but don't necessarily believe that their advice is unbiased and don't be afraid to tackle any of the auctioneers or their assistants if you need an explanation about a catalogue item. Every visit to an auction room or quick perusal through a catalogue will leave you a little wiser.
Having dealt with all the different types of people who attend auctions, perhaps now I can pass on a few tips and tricks which I have learnt in the last few years of buying and selling antiques and collectibles. Firstly there is that terrible moment having purchased something possibly with little inspection, you find that you have made a terrible mistake, it happens to all of us but don't give up there, are often a remedy. A couple of years ago I bought on a commission bid, unseen, other than a catalogue picture, a very nice looking barograph which carried a makers name marking it as an extremely high-quality item. Imagine how delighted I was to find an e-mail informing me that I was the lucky purchaser of this lovely instrument. I was unable to collect the item for a number of weeks and eventually brought it home to start work on it. Horror of horrors when I took the clock mechanism apart there was hardly anything left, it had been completely stripped of parts, My £250 bargain was virtually worthless, a new barrel fitted would cost around £200.I did actually strip and refurbish the mechanism where possible but was completely undecided about what to do, as luck would have it a few weeks later quickly scrolling through an eBay gallery I spotted a thermograph by the same maker from about the same period which I bought for a total of fifty Canadian dollars, the seller was even good enough to take the instrument apart and only send me those bits which I needed, I went on to make a healthy profit from a total loss. Loose pieces of wood are easily glued back into place and often with a stronger bond than the original. Leather "skivers" on writing boxes or desktops can be bought relatively cheaply and using PVC glue, a straight edge, and a sharp knife you can produce a very successful repair In fact when carrying out repairs of this sort success can depend more on preparation, making certain that surfaces are flat and all the old material and glue is removed.
On furniture for example pull a drawer out and look at the dovetails if, you can see a pencil or scribed line marking the inner face of each dovetail you can be fairly certain the joints are hand-cut and not made by machine, this can help to date the piece, equally if the grain and of the wood on the bottom of a drawer runs from side to side or back to front it provides fairly accurate dating point. Not all defects should prevent you buying an item simple repairs are well within the scope of most people and sometimes don' matter at all. For example a ceramic vase that you really like, will still look good on a table with flowers in it, if it has a chip or two around the rim but would be a disaster if there is a crack through the bottom, particularly if you didn't realize and stood it on your beautiful French polished side-table. Whilst on the subject of defects you will almost certainly come across the individual who looks over your shoulder when you are examining something and tells you knowledgeably but they have looked at it and it is very definitely not original or that the damage is beyond recovery. Listen to what they have to say, but develop your own “ pinch of salt” approach, many times I've been in this position only to find that I was bidding against that individual and that they had only been trying to put me off. Equally many very knowledgeable and open-minded individuals will really try and help, so listen and judge for yourself. To finish this part I will tell you how I managed to date a rather nice walnut Davenport which I bought at a very reasonable price. When it first arrived it looked rather sad, the leather top was badly cracked and missing in places, there were no keys, the drawer stops were missing, nearly all the hinges were loose and the surface was dull and lifeless. The leather top was removed with a little soaking and after being allowed to dry, carefully scraped flat, new leather was purchased and fitted with little effort, the hinges were corrected with slightly longer screws to give a grip and the locks removed to be sent away for new keys. With the right books and plenty of time I could perhaps have dated my Davenport, but they were a popular item for over a hundred years and I am not a furniture expert. I had removed the locks to send away for keys, and quite by chance happened to notice a name on the lock for the desktop, a little bit of research on the Internet found out that the company who had manufactured the lock had only used the name in that form, for a period between 1845 and 1850, all of a sudden I had a date and a good one from this period seems to be slightly more elegant than later models. Here I will share a secret with you, a couple of years ago I was trying to clean and polish a slate clock with little or no real success, until a friendly clockmaker suggested I try "Case Restorer" which of course I had never heard of, it can be bought from a number of specialist suppliers and if anybody wants to try it please e-mail me at admin@antiques-united.co.uk and I will happily point them in the right direction. However this magic fluid has been used on so many different surfaces with absolutely no adverse effects that it has become my first port of call when trying to clean and refurbish collectibles and small wooden items I used it on the Davenport where it removed the dark markings leaving the original polished surface unaffected and ready of the beeswax polish to restore the finish overall.
I am myself particularly interested in antique scientific instruments many of which are brass finished with a gilt lacquer which is easily damaged by careless polishing, but good old “Case Restorer” has worked wonders and I have used it on many other surfaces to clean without damage as it contains no solvents. As a final word of warning never use anything yourself on a valuable piece, but seek help from an expert. It does not always mean a huge bill and you will retain the true value of the piece.
R Mitchell. 22/04/10 ©

Created at: 2010-06-12 14:12:18
Updated at: 2011-01-02 19:57:05