It’s almost auction season again, so Kya deLongchamps shows us how to snap out a smart and winning bid    

There’s a leather blue bruise to the blackberries and the school books are nestling into the bags — but forget all that natural splendour and familial responsibility — yes, it’s auction time again.

Whether you’re looking for an Irish 20th century oil, a vintage step-ladder, a sexy old Austin Healy or an Edwardian tea-set – these sales offer not only great value but a slice of juicy human drama.

Forget two hours at the multi-plex, you’ll never see such minute-to-minute mangled emotion on public show. Assembling an interesting, eclectic and utterly unique interior – auctions are a first call.

Auction viewings present a refreshing, unknowable hoard of stuff (antique, second hand and occasionally brand new) winnowed down from wills, house moves, personal collections and business shifts. Paul Cooke Auctions just held an auction of lost luggage in Kildare.

Weary of the high street goose step and off-the-rack bore— let’s get started

First things first, if you intend to bid on anything of consequential value, you should view – in person. If that takes a reasonably long drive, then get into the car.

Most auction houses offer evening and weekend hours, and you can leave a commission bid (made by the house with a planned upper limit), at that point.

It is difficult to judge all but the most standardised of things from a photograph, and the staff, though they will do their best, are rarely specialist in every single thing that comes through the door.

Adverts on these pages and online catalogues ( link to most Irish sales and will also offer you details such as the buyer’s commission and a reminder that VAT for this fee does apply.

Pack a small torch if your mobile doesn’t carry one, a measuring tape and something to take a macro-snap for details and marks on the base of ceramics for example.

So, the inspection

Furniture for which you have a place in mind, needs to be measured first. Know the dimensions of where you expect the 10’ long gentleman’s mahogany break-front wardrobe to go. Bland, brown furniture from the 1880s through to the 1940s is teasingly inexpensive at the moment, however many pieces are gigantic lumps of hardwood, designed for high ceilings and wide doorways. Can you even shift it home and get it inside?

The more you can bring to the viewing in terms of knowing about the pieces, a rough idea of market value, likely serious and not so serious imperfections, and just what you intend to do with them — the better. Put your hands on seating and tables and check for stability.

Chairs can be tested by simply taking the top rail on one side of the back and rocking it gently towards the seat. Any serious surrender at the joints will require attention. Look for signs of active worm — fresh holes and dust falling from the timber members when moved.

A full upholstery job will likely outstrip the price of even a quite nice 19th century sofa or chaise, but original materials even in rubbed, frayed condition are valued by many collectors. Intact patinas, showing decades of wax polish, wear and tear, are valued over bright, mandarin orange French polishing.

Ceramics, having been examined eyeball to the glaze, can be tested although the ear of a dealer is a highly-tuned instrument.

A light flick of the finger will often sound out invisible cracks and old repairs in porcelain and lighter wares. Glass should be nothing short of perfect. Flea bites, and wear to the base is acceptable with rare genres, but will influence their value. Honest restoration of smalls will often be mentioned in the catalogue and may even be indicated on the piece.

Don’t move heavy or delicate pieces, ask the porter for help to judge those all important conditions and dimensions. Settle on a top price (including that commission and VAT), that you are willing to pay and give yourself an ‘I just have to have it’ contingency of a bid or two.

If you are going to the sale, arrive early enough to down a cup of tea, get a catalogue (this often provides your bidding number on the reverse), find a decent well sprung seat within easy view of the auctioneer and — relax. Don’t let your attention drift once the sale starts. Children are not a great help here — leave younger ones at home.

When bidding opens on your lot, don’t jump in unless there is simply no other bid. The auctioneer will suggest a starting figure and if there are no bids, will slide in increments until action starts. Once the bidding is underway, coolly and calmly make your move. If you have never bid before, avoid an over-excited Nazi salute, but don’t expect the auctioneer to see a mere twitch. Just lift your hand and/or catalogue to head level and smartly tap the air in front of you, that’s fine.

A nod of the head will suffice for following bids. Lots of €100-€500 will generally rise €20 at a time, €500 plus by €50 and so on. If you want to offer, say another €25, and the bids are increasing in €50s, make this clear, speak it out. If the item does not reach the reserve set before sale, it is ‘bought in’ by the house. This does not mean you cannot still buy. Go to the auction staff and see if they will negotiate between you and the seller. Commission and VAT still applies. Payment for lots is expected on the day in cash, or by credit card.

Getting a larger piece home, packing and shipping is your problem. Plan ahead or ask about local delivery services allied to the house — you may be charged for storage.

Your bid madam!


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