Pros and cons of buying at Auction

Just about every dealer in the world shares my belief that an auctioneer’s estimate should do what it’s supposed to do. That is, give a broad ranging estimateof the likely sum a piece could fetch.

If most auctioneers had their way, they would sell everything without a reserve and have a ridiculously low estimate in the description of many items.In reality, the estimate should be a guideline to what the item might fetch. I’m afraid that these days the auctioneers estimate is often merely a marketing ploy.

But since auction salesrooms have to rely on the trade as vendors, which includes the major players,   legally speaking a reserve price cannot be higher than the lowest price in the estimate. Some auctioneers fail to stick to this rule and risk landing  themselves in trouble with the appropriate authorities if exposed.

Another important fact that every buyer should bear in mind is that an auctioneer will often start off the bidding a lot lower than either the reserve or the estimate. 

As a buyer:

As a buyer the other very important rule is Caveat Emporfrom the Latin “Let the Buyer beware”. Ultimately it is the buyer’s responsibility to ensure he or she is personally satisfiedin bidding for a particular lot. If the potential buyer in question is unable to attend a sale, then they must empower someone else to bid on their behalf. It will then be this person, the buyer’s representative, to satisfy themselves they are right to bid for a particular lot on behalf of someone else, as Caveat Empor  will apply to them in the same way that it would to the person on whose behalf they are bidding.

As a seller:

As a seller or vendor you have a responsibility to alert the Auction Valuer to any issues concerning the lot you wish to sell. In the event that it is sold and the buyer finds evidence of a major fault in the item, or that some kind of fraud was intended, the vendor will ultimately have to reimburse the auction salesroom. In other words, all vendors have to indemnify the auction salesroom against any loss or incorrect description.

If you are selling:

If you are selling at auction you have to appreciate the dangers of there being no reserve. On the one hand there may be a greater opportunity of realising a high price but, if you are selling items of no exceptional worth, they could go for a negligible amount and you could end up being out of pocket,  once charges have been deducted.

The alternative:

The alternative to selling at auction is to sell to a specialised dealer who will tell you which pieces he has specific interest in. He may even make you an offer for part of your collection, or even the whole of it.This way he retains the piece, or pieces that really interest him and is then able to sell of the rest of the collection at auction. 


CIRCA 1738-40

Price Realized




£40,000 – £60,000

($82,000 – $123,000)

Sale Information Christies sale no 7430 —

A Highly Important Private Collection of Meissen and Continental Porcelain

11 December 2007

London, King Street

Lot Description


CIRCA 1738-40 

Modelled by J.J. Kändler, in a twisted recoiling pose, his right arm almost shielding his turned head, wearing a yellow hat with a red rosette, a red, turquoise and buff chequered jacket with yellow rosettes, black pantaloons with playing cards, all enriched with gilt lines, leaning against a tree-stump on an oval mound base applied with flowers and foliage (two chips to brim of hat slightly re-touched, restoration to slap-stick and one bow of rosette on left shoe, slight chipping to flowers and foliage, areas of very slight wear)

6½ in. (16.5 cm.) high

Special Notice

VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 15% on the buyer’s premium

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