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How Best to Begin Buying Antiques in Auction, or From Dealers

A personal view by John Neville Cohen


About Becoming an Antique Collector
Before buying anything; make a point of studying books and catalogues (even old ones) on your subject, then attend a few auctions, be sure to inspect your choice of antiques on the viewing days before the auction, always allow enough time to visit and explore the main dealers' stock, both before and after any auction sales.  This way you will gradually be able to assess what quality items are available and the prices being currently asked.  Make a point of chatting to dealers, or well-known collectors, about what has happened after an auction.  Not always, but sometimes one can gain quite a lot of useful guidance about particular pieces, what to look out for and importantly about the general feelings about any record breaking prices. 

After an auction it can be possible sometimes to find that a dealer might have a similar quality piece, or even a better one, for much less than has just been paid!  A note of caution here, sometimes a really silly price is paid in the auction room, simply because two determined people badly wanted that piece.  In such a case of course, that value has to be discounted to a certain extent.  It is this sort of information that should be sought (in my earlier suggestion of chatting at the end of the auction).

Buying Guidance
The best advice for anyone tempted to collect any antiques would be, first, to study your choice of subject and attend auctions, meet and talk to the dealers, handle and see as many pieces as possible.  Do not rush in to buy because unfortunately trying to collect, in any specialised antique area, it often takes many years to acquire the necessary expertise, without which, very costly mistakes can be made.  Once you feel more confident you should then be prepared to commission a well-known specialist dealer to bid for you.  You would have to expect to pay at least 10% (of the bid price) for this service.  But this can be well worth paying, as you will not only benefit from his knowledge and guidance, you will also stop him bidding against you!

Only another collector can fully appreciate that overpowering urge, that comes over one, on finding a treasure really wanted.  It is the closest feeling to that of love at first sight.  I have been told that one's pupils tend to enlarge, and this is one of the signs that dealers watch out for, and as collectors, of course, we always try desperately to camouflage our interest.

Strange things certainly do happen at auction!  If there is only one spectacular piece amongst some fairly good items, there is a good chance of picking up a bargain, both just before and just after, the really super piece.  Before, the main buyers are often holding back hoping they can be in with a chance with their maximum bid, so they tend to stop bidding as high as they might have done in normal circumstances.  Immediately after, because everyone is discussing what has just been paid, especially if a record price was reached, all this can be going on whilst another piece slips through and is sold.

There are also items known as 'sleepers' and often these are pieces that are sold at bargain prices, just because no one present required it, or for some reason it was overlooked. 

Attending a poor auction (this is one with only one or two good items in it, amongst a lot of junk) can be advantageous, if there is a fine example to be had.  Quite a number of buyers feel they cannot afford the time in attending such a poor auction.  Sadly this does not happen so much now. 

Sometimes too, but not often, a piece is wrongly described.  Then one can, if lucky, really find a bargain.  Once we bought a jade snuff bottle that is so remarkably well hollowed and such a flawless piece of stone, that it was in fact sold wrongly catalogued as glass!  We had to buy it from a well-known dealer (preferring to pay him a good profit, rather than keep bidding it up against him) in the end it wasn't cheap - but it is one of the finest we have ever seen!

We no longer believe much in trying to find bargains, as we have found that the most expensive, but finest examples, over time, are often by far the best buys!  We have worried about having paid too much on several occasions.  They were very rare, superb examples, but still we worried.  Yet these are now the treasures that have proved to be the most wonderful bargains of all!

Beyond Value
Lastly, there is one important factor that has not been mentioned, as it is so impossible to measure!  That is the value of the pleasure one enjoys from participating, as a collector, in such a fascinating hobby as collecting antiques is hard to describe. 

You also meet such interesting people from all over the world, for there is an immediate bond amongst fellow collectors, except when met at the beginning of an auction! 

Then there is the intrigue of the hunt and the excitement at every new addition that only another collector can fully appreciate.  Life is so enriched, I do believe that such hobbies are vital, and so many people who have hardly any outside interests, beyond their world of work, have no idea of just how much fun they are missing!

John Neville Cohen: An International award winning photographer who also became a well known Asian antiques collector and an enthusiast of Jensen British classic cars.  Other interests are skiing and Salsa dancing.  The author has been a very keen collector for many years in helping to create 'The Cohen collection'.    Please have a look at: -   

To see other articles, with photographs, please use the following link:

Keywords: Antique auctions, Antiques, collecting, dealers, bargains, buying in auction, antique collecting, auctions, dealers, Asian antiques

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