Take Your Time and Inspect Carefully
All auctions have at least a short period between the time the doors open or they take the tarps off and when they start taking bids for the first lot. Use that time wisely!
Get there early. Go through the stuff and look for what you are interested in. I bring a notebook and mark down what I found. Check over each piece and look for damage. You can read about my methods to find damage here, here and here.
Just as with flea markets, the glass can be dirty and hard to tell whether it is worn. Bring a damp rag in a baggie and wipe off pieces you wonder about, then hold them to the light to look for surface wear. Run your fingers along the edges, top, bottom and side.
Also, watch how other people are handling fragile items. If you see a bunch of clumsy, careless bidders, this may not be the auction for you.
Box lots are great! But if there are a lot of boxes to auction off you might get confused on which one has the goodies you want. Make a note of the other box contents because people will handle things and the box may look different when it’s finally put for bid. Some folks will even move things from one box to another, again, a sign that you might be at the wrong place.
If the auction has a lot of boxes, don’t be surprised if the auctioneer groups boxes and does a choice out on them, where you are bidding on the right to purchase as many boxes as you want for the bid price. Remember, with choice outs, you do not know what the other bidders are after. You could be bidding your merry way and be the only person in the place who wants that box with the Mayfair pink goblet! The other guy may be bidding you up because they want the box with the old car manuals. You don’t know and you really cannot ask.
Figure Out Your Top Bid
Auctions are fun and fast moving and it is easy to get caught in the action and over bid. Protect yourself by noting what you are willing to pay for each item and stick to it!
If there is a set of something, I like to mark down the number of pieces and what I would pay per piece. Sometimes the auctioneer will sell off the bowls as a group, then the plates, then the rest of the pieces. Other times they may do a “choice out” where you bid a price per item then choose which item(s) you want at that price. Or they may offer the entire set as a lot.
Check for Reproductions
We’ve covered reproductions and fakes here before. Remember, only a handful of patterns have been reproduced at all, and most of those have only a few pieces to concern you. So don’t let fear of fakes keep you from enjoying beautiful depression glass!
Nonetheless, you will see fakes at auctions. Early on I got several fakes at two auctions from “glass dealers”. Two auctions from other dealers had beautiful, pristine items. Don’t assume anything at an auction. (Even glass sellers can be foolish, ignorant or even, heaven forbid, venal.)
If you think you might find glass in one of the heavily-reproduced patterns, like Cherry Blossom or Madrid, bring along a book or page copies that show tips to tell reproduced from real. At one time I used to lug around a stack of books until I got familiar with the patterns and approximate values; now I would still take a copy of Gene Florence’s Pocket Guide to Depression Glass & More for its excellent repro coverage. That book is small enough to slip into your purse or pocket – in fact I keep a copy in each car.
If you see glass that might be reproduced, don’t talk about it. You could be wrong. And if you hear someone else say glass is reproduced, check it out yourself. There are some unscrupulous characters at auctions!
Do Your Homework
Read the terms of auction before leaving home. Pay particular attention to any bidder’s premium, payment methods (and any surcharges for credit), starting times and inspection times.
- A bidder’s premium is a percentage tacked onto the final price. Factor this into your bids.
- Know whether they will charge sale tax.
- Some auctioneers take credit cards only for totals over a certain amount.
As you get familiar with auctioneers you’ll know whether they will have chairs, bathrooms, drinking water or food. When you start, assume there will be nothing available and bring what you need. I’ll cover tips for auction must-haves next post!