While internet bidding seems to be taking over, nothing can beat the thrill of being there in person. Here's how to do it:
Drink in the atmosphere
Every saleroom and every auction has its own special atmosphere, and many people attend auctions just to observe the action unfold. People watching can be a great way of learning about auction procedure and protocol. Emulate those around you and you'll soon resemble a pro.
Get there early
Don't arrive just as the sale is about to begin. Give yourself ample time and space to look at everything on offer, to think, to chat with the auctioneer, to have a coffee even. From your established vantage point you'll be able to check out the lots that are commanding the greatest interest, but also those inexplicably neglected gems that might just go for a song…
Don't be too rigid
While it can make good budgetary sense to set yourself a financial limit before setting out, auctions are imbued with a sense of anticipation and the unknown, and you can starve yourself of a large part of the auction experience by being too rigid. If you allow yourself a little wriggle room in terms of price, you enable yourself to engage heart as well as head in the process. There is never a guaranteed outcome at an auction - and herein lies the excitement.
Don't be put off bidding
Bidding is pretty straightforward. Ignore the myth about the gentleman who scratched his nose and ended up with a $30,000 teapoy table; meet the auctioneer's eye and either nod or hold up your buyer's paddle. In order to obtain a buyer's paddle at the start of the sale simply register with the auction house when you arrive.
Allow a 4-6 second pause for thought after a lot is introduced. If there is little interest, the auctioneer will generally reduce the opening price slightly. Don't linger too long however, as the lot may merely be passed.
Always buy the best you can afford
As a rule, quality items hold their value. Edward Crichton, fine art manager at Lacy, Scott and Knight in Bury St Edmonds, UK told the East Anglian Daily Times: "The greatest advantage of buying at auction - if you take the long-term view - is that it is effectively free. If you buy what you like and the best you can afford, you can bring the same item back to auction a few years down the line and you often find its value has kept pace with inflation - sometimes you'll even make a decent profit."
If you have a question, ask
Auctioneers are auction experts - what they don't know about buying and selling at auction probably isn't worth knowing. Reputable auctioneers are invested in encouraging repeat custom and so seek to provide a useful and valuable service beyond the sale itself. If you suspect that an item has been repaired, though this detail is not listed in the catalogue notes, just ask. Likewise, talking to the auctioneer about how much interest a piece has garnered or whether or not it is likely to exceed its estimate is incredibly common practice.
Know your premiums
If you are successful at auction, managing to secure that particular item you had your eye on all afternoon, you'll be required to pay a buyer's premium on top of your winning bid. Buyer's premiums vary from auction house to auction house (at Christie's London, for example, sales up to £37,500 require a buyer's premium of 25%, sales of £37,501-750,000 stand at 20% and sales above £750,001 command a buyer's premium of 12%). These additional monies are worth thinking about before you bid.
When the auctioneer slams his gavel down on the rostrum at the end of bidding, it is a contract to buy. But Rowley's senior auctioneer, Will Axon, insists novices should not be intimidated.
"Auction houses are becoming more like retail outlets - geared toward the private buyer and collector - the smoke and mirrors attitude to sales has more or less disappeared," he told the East Anglian Daily Times.
"Honesty is the key to an auctioneer's success because it encourages more bidders."