One of my favorite ways to spend a Saturday is at an old fashioned farm or estate auction. All those treasures spread out on wagons, tables, the ground. The siren call of the auctioneer’s patter. The adrenaline rush of bidding and winning! It’s fun and addictive.
People have told me that they are intimidated by auctions. I want to put all your fears to bed. Auctions are not scary. In fact, they’re usually laid back, friendly and entertaining. I’ve been working on a list of my best auction tips to make the new bidder more comfortable.
Now, I have to admit my auction background and experience is strictly Midwest. Things may be completely different in other parts of the world. And, I am not talking about fancy schmancy high end auctions here either. These are not the kind of auctions that come with a catalog and a numbered paddle. I’d probably feel in over my head at one of those sales, too.
The auctions I attend have goods piled in cardboard beer flats and boxes. There’s everything from nails and wood planers to antique typewriters and vintage quilts. The auctioneer is probably wearing a cowboy hat and boots or at least a ball cap with his company logo on it. Regardless, many of these tips will still get you by in any auction situation.
- Arrive Early – I always try to arrive at the auction 30 minutes to one hour before it starts. (My husband would camp out the night before if I let him.) This gives me time to get a bidder’s number and start exploring. I systematically walk along the tables or wagons that the goods are piled on and do my best not to miss looking at anything. Getting there early means that I can get a good idea of where the items I am most interested in are located, and a general lay of the land. Often, I’ll find the auctioneer and find out exactly where he means to start. This is also a good opportunity to meet friends and acquaintances that you only see on auction day!
- Dress for the Weather – There is no dress code at the auctions I attend. Most of them are held outdoors, and it’s more important to be comfortable than fashionable. They start early and end late. I might need a sweatshirt in the morning, but a hat and sunscreen by noon, especially in the spring. I recommend dressing in layers, but you know the weather in your area best. Kansas is unpredictable. Depending on the time of year, I’ll wear a sweatshirt over my t-shirt and pack some sunscreen. Usually, I can find a break in the action to return to my car to unload any extra clothing that I’ve shed. Comfortable shoes are a must, because you will be standing a lot.
- Don’t be Afraid to Dig – Much of the time, the items at auctions are sold by the box or flat. And, if there is enough stuff, those boxes might get piled on top of each other. As you’re looking at the goods up for sale, be sure to move those boxes, open boxes within boxes, and dig to the bottom of boxes. You can’t know what is in or under there without looking! I recommend doing as much of this as you can before the auctioneer starts working that particular table or trailer. You don’t want to get in the way.
- Pay Attention – Auctions move quickly and it’s important that you’re paying attention if you plan to bid on anything that is on, next to or under the current table or trailer being sold. Items can be sold in a number of manners, so you must listen to the auctioneer. He may hold up an individual item for bidding or three items, and you get to choose which of the three you want if you win the bid. He might say, “Your choice – any box or item from here to here.” The key is to know what is being sold at that point in time. If you miss the instructions, don’t be afraid to ask your neighbor. It’s okay to step away from the action when you know there is nothing on a particular table that you are interested in bidding on, but keep an eye on the movement of the sale so you don’t miss the item on the next table that you wanted.
- Make Yourself Visible to the Auctioneer – If you’re planning to bid, try to find a spot where the auctioneer can see you. It doesn’t mean you have to be front and center, but, for heaven’s sake, don’t stand behind him!
- Know Your Bidder Number – At the very least, keep your number easily accessible. If you win the bid, the auctioneer will need to know your number. Most will let you tell them or you can show them. But, please don’t waste everyone’s time by fumbling around in all fifteen of your overall pockets trying to find your number. The really good auctioneers will remember your number after you’ve won a handful of bids. I have no idea how they do this, but it’s pretty amazing.
- Set a Limit, but Be Flexible – When you find an item or box you want to bid on, fix a price in your mind. Know what you are willing to pay so that you will know when to stop bidding. However, it’s also important to be flexible. If you are at your limit, ask yourself, “Will I kick myself if I lose this item over a couple of dollars?” If so, bid once more. If it’s something that you really love, you won’t mind if you spent $52 on it, instead of $50.
- Keep Track of What You’ve Spent – This is one of those “practice what you preach” moments for me. Sometimes, I do really well and jot down what I bought and what I paid for it as the auction goes along. Other times, I’m so busy bidding, that I don’t stop and keep track. But, if you’re on a budget, it is critical to keep a list. Bring a pen and write things down on the back of your bidder number as you go. It’s also helpful when you go back through your tickets at the end of the day. Sometimes, the auction clerk may have described the item you bought differently than you did, but you can figure things out by comparing your list to theirs.
- Set Up a Headquarters – You’re not going to want to drag every single purchase back to your car the minute you buy it. However, you are responsible for it once you’ve won the bid. I try to find an out of the way place to stash my stuff, and so do most of the other people I see at auctions. Everyone has their pile and folks respect the pile. I have found that most auction attendees are pretty honest, but I’m sure that’s not always the case. So, I give this tip with a bit of caution. If you’re not comfortable leaving your winnings unattended, then by all means, take them to your car and lock them up. This is especially true if you just won a highly sought after small item.
- Be Polite – Use your pleases, thank yous and excuse mes. Don’t shove your way to the front. If someone at the back won the bid and needs to come to the front to make their choice, let them through. Be helpful and help pass items along to the winner when necessary. Common courtesy, kids.
- Eat Pie – Most auctions will have some kind of food stand available to feed the masses. Often, they are run by church groups, and those ladies know how to make pie. Get a piece of pie. I usually have mine early for breakfast.
Auctions are such a fun way to add to your vintage collections! I have been known to have trouble sleeping the night before a good one. If you have the chance attend an old fashioned farm or estate auction, do it! You will have fun, and you will probably come home with something amazing!
Any other good tips, fellow auction junkies? Are auctions different in your neck of the woods? Tell me about them!