A Little Auction Music, Please

auctioncardI am a long-time fan of Antiques Roadshow, American Pickers, and the Lovejoy mysteries (books and TV show). Anything of that ilk is fine by me. I only wish I hadn’t waited until I moved to Washington to attend my first auction. What a hoot!

Driving through winding roads lined with pine, fir, and deciduous trees set the mood. I never saw so many shades of green, from the palest to the deepest. One could think that nothing but green might be less than exciting, but the contrast and beauty was breathtaking.

I chose an estate sale, partly because it’s fun to visit different houses and look around, partly because of the variety of items for sale. Merchandise included a violin and clarinet; some antiques; furniture; pictures; kitchen items; and other miscellaneous goodies.

After walking down a street lined with cars, I sat down next to Caroline. It turned out that she knew the Bay Area where I was from. Although she lived in the Port Angeles, WA area for 20+ years and had been going to auctions all that time, she also had lived in Watsonville and Sonoma, California. What a coincidence since I had just moved from Marin. When I explained it was my first auction and I was nervous, she told me not to worry, she would help. She explained that I needed to go to the trailer to get my bidding tag, and – most important – not to start bidding until the price came down. It was an education sitting next to the generous Caroline.

auctioncallerWaiting for the auctioneer is something like being present at a stage musical while the orchestra warms up. My stomach was a little fluttery. Would I understand? How fast would he talk? What if I scratched my nose and he thought I was bidding?

I did a little research and found that an auctioneer must keep three basic things in mind amongst the chatter. He opens with The Want — how much they want to get for the article. Don’t bid yet. If nobody bids The Want, the price goes down until somebody does bid, (there could be a number they won’t go below, the reserve price for high-end items). That becomes The Have. We have 25, we want 100, somebody give me 30, gimme 30, gimme 30, there’s 30, somebody gimme 35. Something like that. If The Want is reached, the next level is The Next. Everything else is entertaining filler. They sure do talk fast.

At this auction, there was a 10% buyer’s premium. That means you won’t pay the $100 you bid. It’s $100, plus tax, plus $10 buyer’s premium. I gather this is common.

The auctioneer speaks another language and has to have many talents, he must be: amusing, an entertainer; a fast thinker; and be able to see and hear all parts of the audience at the same time. Additionally, he should have gone to auctioneer school and be licensed. Imagine that there is an auctioneer school! The chant sounds like music. I got so caught up in it, I forgot to listen to the amounts of the bids.

I was startled when a helper yelled out a loud HUP and pointed at a bidder, but part of his job is to make sure the auctioneer doesn’t miss anything.

The auction began with what Caroline told me were the smalls. Here is some auction terminology. Smalls can be carried by one person, and are usually glassware and collectibles. There were also boxes of somewhat similar items.

I did bid twice, but let them go to the next person who bid up $5. The pictures and lamp might have been worth more than I bid, but I didn’t want to spend more. Some good auction advice, keep in mind how much you want to pay and stick to it.

Here is an informative, well-written series of articles for newbie auction goers like me.

auctionhouseI will definitely attend more auctions. It’s like treasure hunting. I still need a narrowish bookcase and a small chest of drawers. Even if I don’t buy anything, who can know what will show up later? Plus looking around a house is like reading stories, if you pay attention. There were maps and photos of ships on the office wall. Was the owner in the Navy? Where did that beautiful oriental chest and mirror come from? I don’t think it was very old, but why was it there when I didn’t see anything else like it?

I love the auctioneer’s call to action, so I will end with an old song I remembered from the 60’s, The Auctioneer.  Good hunting!



  1. You capture that first time perfectly! The dread that you’ll end up with something like a pink casket for $5000 just because you scratched your nose! I love your blogs.

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