Whether or not you return home with a Victorian sofa or a slightly used ironing board, an auction can make a good afternoon's or evening's worth of entertainment. Those who know the right way to attend an auction, who have mastered the art of bidding and not bidding, will get good buys as well as entertainment. Those who don't may end up wishing they'd gone to a movie instead.
Recognizing that auctions are loaded with both pleasures and perils, William C. Ketchum Jr. has written a useful guide to making sure there are more of the former than the latter.
You begin, he says, by making wise use of the auction preview, the time period in which the public can examine the goods to be sold. Anything that interests you should be examined thoroughly. Does that dropleaf table have both its leaves intact? Does that quilt have too many moth holes to make it a worthwhile investment? Never, he advises, bid on anything you haven't seen before it goes up for bid.
Other chapters deal with the sale itself, including such crucial matters as where to sit and how to bid intelligently. He also tackles the thorny subject of how to protect yourself against a dishonest auctioneer. How do you know if the auctioneer is using a "shill," someone planted in the audience to bid in order to get the price up? Or what about those "phantom bidders" who aren't really there at all?
A lawyer as well as an avid auction-goer, Mr. Ketchum gives the reader a good idea of the rules and regulations governing most auctions. Just how binding a bid can be and the circumstances under which a customer can return an object are well-outlined. He also includes a chapter on how to use auctions as a seller rather than as a buyer, pointing out that certain auctions can yield particularly high prices for your own merchandise.
In addition there is some useful background on the types of antiques auctions that are available. They range from the elite city galleries such as Sotheby Parke Bernet and Christie's, where millions of dollars can be spent during a single sale, to the small country auctions that dispense everything from Chippendale highboys to boxes of bottle caps. Each, as Mr. Ketchum illustrates, requires a certain amount of know-how to obtain both profit and enjoyment.
James Wagenvoord's book is less of a how-to on auction attendance and more of a compendium of the many different types of auctions available today. While Mr. Ketchum deals with just those offering antiques and fine arts, Mr. Wagenvoord introduces the reader to everything from post office a uctions to those resulting from business liquidations.