Virtually Bidding - live online auctions

Kya de Longchamps looks at virtual bidding and live online auctions.

Love it or loathe it, the trend towards all auction houses eventually going online as a natural extension of traditional commission bidding is inevitable.

A number or Irish auctioneers I spoke to had not as yet entered into the online bidding arena, one firm stating that it took away from the fundamental theatre and social joy of the auction floor.

A growing number of auction houses have made a start with their own user-friendly online commission bid facility, where you can register and leave a maximum bid.

Online catalogues of sales throughout the country with individual illustrations of each lot are already expected.

Offering a country, even worldwide audience the facility to bid, or to ultimately bid live on fine art and antiques makes good business sense.

Niche collectors of everything from jewellery to classic cars can now not only hunt abroad, receiving electronic tips of items coming up for sale, but bidding in live or timed auctions, can take more personal control minute to minute.

Virtually Bidding - live online auctions

George Fonsie Mealy, left, and Fonsie Mealy with a Native American costume which sold recently at auction with Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers, of Castlecomer, for a staggering €320,000.

Showcasing on the internet has already increased business and prices achieved for forward-thinking Irish houses, including deVeres, Whyte’s and Adams in Dublin, Reilly’s in Kildare.

Mealy’s and Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers of Castlecomer in Kilkenny. George Fonsie Mealy explains: “We have offered online bidding for four years through The Saleroom, and there’s no doubt it has increased our client base. We recently had a most unusual lot, a Native American outfit of museum quality.

"Getting that rare piece shown to international bidders made a huge difference on the day, making €320,000 from a pre-sale estimate of €6,000. Oriental ceramics are one of a number of growing, exciting markets.”

The leading portal connecting auction houses and bidders in this brave new world of live webcasts is The Saleroom ( ).

Operated by ATG Media who also own the antique almanac of every dealer, Antiques Trade Gazette, The Saleroom is a seductive resource hosting sales from around the world that include some leading Irish auction houses.

Their new cloud based platform Global Auction Platform, is amalgamating a number of their auction media sites in one super software product for auctioneers.

Slouched in bed on Sunday morning, or leaping over the corporate firewall at work (naughty), you as a bidder can search for pieces, browse catalogues and place bids in real time from London to Los Angeles.

Invaluable (based in Boston) is another easy-to-follow auction marketplace, with 30 million bidders a year, and , UK Auctioneers and Live Auctioneers (NY) are all protected by a Secure Bidder Network (SBN) to keep your offers private until the moment of sale.

Premiere sites offer alerts for individual items, suitable auctions for your collecting interests and live audio and video feeds communicating the stifled rumble from the attending chorus of bidders on the auction room floor as the major players bark out their leading lines.

You can feel the texture live but currently Irish and UK auction houses seal the commission bids online or by phone for a traditional live auction an hour or two before the sale begins.

There are some responsibilities to understand as a buyer as before you view and bid remotely.

Your PC, tablet or mobile phone should support the latest edition of Adobe Flash Player and you may need to install a (generally free) browser to access and take part in some auction sites during bidding.

The next step is to register to bid. For live bidding this is generally through registering an account at a portal such as The Saleroom, and then by signing up to bid at the particular auction you are interested in.

Individual auction houses are not compelled to accept you to bid online — be prepared to contact them by phone or email to clear up any caveats.

Viewing can be carried out online, but for detailed information or a condition report you can make an enquiry with a couple of clicks. Research the lot you’re considering thoroughly, including prices achieved (rather than being asked for) for similar pieces — the internet is a fabulous resource in this respect.

The Saleroom offers a Price Guide of prices achieved as a paid subscription service. There’s even a packing and shipping price per lot given at viewing — a superb extra for delivery worldwide.

This service is optional, and some auction houses may offer nothing more than a referral to a reputable firm for packing and shipping. Ensure the lot is adequately insured for transport.

Timed Auctions are similar to what you may be familiar with on Ebay, with a limited number of days within which to compete for a particular item. Morgan O’Driscoll bravely handles their online bidding system for artwork.

You register to bid, as with a standard auction, and then enter your maximum bid confidentially through your account.

Your bids are given in rising increments and you can of course increase your maximum bid as events unfold. If your bid is the highest at the auction’s end, and the bid exceeds the reserve (your maximum bid can ping you up to the reserve) the lot is yours.

You can treat live auctions just the same as timed auctions by using an auto-bid facility, where the selling house will handle your bids for you, and contact you for payment and shipping if and when you win the lot.

Keep in mind when bidding online that on top of the usually buyer’s premium, including Vat set by the auction house (BP of 18-24% would be standard), there may be an extra 3%-5% online commission or internet surcharge.

The contractual commitment to buy remains the same if you win a lot, presuming it materially agrees with the description given. My final advice remains the same. Don’t lose your head — or when the invoice arrives from the auction house, and the cost of shipping kicks in, the return to earth, will deliver a financially bruising bump.


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