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{26/01/2013}   Bidding at auction

I went to Greenwich Auction House yesterday, the first time in over a year, and I was reminded how much fun it is.  I got there early to have a look around with the catalogue in hand, which is part of the fun, marking the things you want.  There were a few things I liked the look of but it was a “19th c style hardwood frame plantation chair with footrest arms, upholstered in antique tan leather with stud relief £120-£150” that I had my sights on.

I am fortunate enough to have a friend who lives opposite the auction house so as the lot I wanted to bid on was number 290 and there was still 40 minutes before the auction was even due to commence, I went to hers for coffee.  The auction house has a fantastic caff where instant coffee is sold in polystyrene cups.  There is something really old school about the whole auction experience in small-scale auction houses and it all adds to the charm.

Having spent time at the Greenwich auction in the past, I knew it would be cold in there so was well prepared with my puffy coat, and indeed I could see my breath for the duration of my time spent there!  I secured a seat about 20 minutes before my lot came up, having got my bidding card from the office.  I was all very calm, but then the auction adrenaline kicked in, the kind of adrenaline that makes you keep waving your bidding card furiously when other people try to outbid you.  It’s a dangerous thing, the whole shopping with a laminated piece of card that you merely need to raise in the air to attempt to secure a purchase.

I know from experience that you have to have in mind the maximum you will bid for something, particularly as 18% is added on at the end as the buyer’s fee.  At first I decided I would only bid for the chair if I could get it for £100, then I decided £120, then I saw lots of other people looking admiringly at it, so had a bit of  think about how much it could be worth.  We are ignoring the fact I have just bought three armchairs.  The reason I loved the chair was because it was good quality, worn tan leather and it was deep and had a lovely curve to it.  It also transpired that half of each arm (wooden) opened out to make a drinks table.  I was won over and I really wanted that chair.  Also dangerous in an auction, especially when raising an arm is such an easy, reflex thing to do!

As the auctioneer got to about 15 lots before mine, I started getting really excited and neatly arranged my card so the number would be the right way up when I raised it.  I was feeling the buzz and the great anticipation.  To my annoyance, the auctioneer paused over this lot and explained a bit more about the chair, creating additional interest.  Then the bidding started and before I knew it my hand was jerking up and down uncontrollably.  Dreadful.  £120 became £150 but it kept going up.  I then made moves to raise my arm at £170, at which point I was a bit panicky at clearly being out of control, but somebody else got the £170 before me.  It was then quite a way over what I had decided to pay and someone bought it over the phone for £190 and I got the impression that person would have kept bidding.  I was really disappointed.

I don’t like going to auctions and coming away empty handed, especially as there was a lot I liked as much as I liked that one.  Thing is, I suspect it wouldn’t have fitted in my car so I would have needed to get a black cab or hired a van, another 18 % would have been added to the total and it would have ended up a lot more than I could justify spending on a chair.  But it was lovely and I am now back in the swing of going to auctions.

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