Photo by Shelton Auction

There’s no better place to get what you need to furnish and equip your newly acquired cabin or small holding (right up to and including heavy equipment) than a country auction. Even if you are not initially in the market for anything specific and don’t intend to bid, you will probably change your mind, so gather your wits and brace yourself. Check your local small-town newspaper for the auction advertisements and locations, but before you head out, here’s a quick primer on auction rules!



The first rule is never to bid on something you have not previewed. All auctions open early to give you a chance to look over the junk (that is, the priceless treasures) going up for bid. All items bought at auction are at the buyer’s risk—as is, where is—so look carefully and don’t neglect the “job lots,” those trays and boxes of bric-a-brac that may well contain a five-carat diamond ring. To a certain extent, you can rely on a description in an auctioneer’s catalog, but the really fun auctions don’t have such a thing. Read the terms and conditions on the back of your bidder’s card after you register.


You didn’t register? Murphy’s Law Of Registration is that if you don’t register, something you suddenly just have to have will be the first up and gone before you do so. You can bid without registration, but you will incur the enmity of the auctioneer, his staff and everyone else at the auction since it will be delayed. Go to the office before the auction, show your driver’s license and get your large white card with your bidding number, which you will hold up to show the auctioneer after he says, “You bought it, mister!” After you pay for it, of course—only with a credit card or cash, usually. Very few auctioneers will accept a personal check.


While previewing, be aware that the room is full of dealers. This probably isn’t obvious since they look like you. The tricks of their trade are many and some are disgraceful, such as murmuring derogatory remarks about something he or she sees you inspecting. At auctions, dealers do have one weakness—they must buy roughly at wholesale to make a profit on a retail sale. Bidding against a dealer, if you can spot him, is a good deal. You can rely on his or her expertise as to value, condition and quality, but he will usually only bid to approximately 50 percent of retail. Of course, this strategy backfires if the dealer is the owner and is trying to sell the item you want to buy. This, of course, is naughty, but it has been known to happen, so be careful.

Rule #4: SET A LIMIT

Next, know something about what you are trying to buy. But even if you don’t, set a limit for yourself and do not ever bid over that number. There is a strange madness that grips the bidder at an auction and caution is very often thrown to the wind. Be leery about mentioning that you may bid on an item or what you are willing to pay for it before the bidding starts. You must remember that this is an adversarial process pitting the bidders against the auctioneer, who is out to get the best price for the owner/consignor while at the same time increasing his commissions.


When an item comes up for bid, the auctioneer or his assistant will hold it up, there may be a brief verbal description and then the auctioneer will toss out a number. Listen closely to this, as the auctioneer almost always knows roughly what the item is worth, and the final and successful bid will often be close to the auctioneer’s original number. But not always, so if he starts at $70 and there are no bids, he will probably wind up at $5.


There is the actual bidding process, and, over time, you will develop your own style. Never bid by halves! That is when the bids are going up by $20 a shout and someone indicates by waving his hand horizontally that he is prepared to go $10. And once you decide to bid, do so quickly and decisively. Never hesitate or consult your companion before bidding. These are sure signs of either doubt or dwindling funds and dealers and collectors can smell it.


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