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6 tips on how to be an expert collector

Mark Huddleston, Senior Specialist in Antiques and Fine Art at Fellows Auctioneers in Birmingham, has these tips on how to be an expert collector 

How to be an expert collector in 6 simple steps

1. Decide what (and why) you want to collect.

If you are furnishing, or collecting, without much thought of resale, then choose whatever moves you. If you are more pragmatic and wish to build a portfolio of antiques for future resale, then it’s a different story. Generally, developing a sharp focus is useful, so pick a specialist area which interests you. Not just ‘pottery’ or ‘20th Century pottery’ or even ‘Art Deco’ pottery’ but try to pick a particular factory. There is so much out there that finding what you like early on is key. Once you have found your niche, you can then begin to use keyword searches associated with that subject in order to locate pieces at auction

2. Research, research, research

Knowledge is power, as in most areas of life. Knowledge will help you to pick out an item in a boxful, which has been overlooked – it could be a piece by an unknown artist, a rarity nobody else knew about, or a rare trial piece. Research will enrich your own collecting experience, and assist you if and when you eventually sell, and help you to pass that enthusiasm over to the next generation of collectors.

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3. Before the auction, do your groundwork

Sign up for an online account. In our case, this will give you access to our own archive of results so that you can see what prices have been achieved in the past. View the lot, either in person or online. Lots are often sold with multiple photos online (rather than just one image in the printed catalogue) and sometimes also give a condition report. However, auction houses expect additional requests for images or more details and are (generally) happy to supply them. Read the condition report carefully. This will tell you if there is any damage to the piece. Note what the report does NOT say, as well as what it does.Ask an expert!

At an auction, there is usually a specialist team on hand to help with all buying needs. They can help with questions from the condition of the piece to how to look after it once you have purchased it.

4. Understand the additional costs of auction.

Most importantly, the buyer’s premium – this additional cost of purchase at auction varies, but is generally between 15% and 25% of the hammer price, plus VAT. On top of this collection or delivery of your item will usually be at the buyer’s risk and expense.

5. Work out how you want to bid

Unless you are going to attend the auction in person, you have three options:

  • Commission (or absentee) bidding: You simply specify a maximum amount that you are willing to go up to and then the auctioneer will bid on your behalf, only using as much of your bid as is necessary to secure the item unless you are outbid altogether. Placing one is simple as hitting the ‘bid now’ button on the on-line catalogue.
  • Telephone bidding: An experienced member of the auction team will call you and talk you through the auction, bidding on your behalf. They will repeat everything the auctioneer says and then ask if you wish to bid.
  • Live internet bidding: You watch the live-streamed feed and then hit the ‘bid’ button. The auctioneer will be informed that you are bidding and will treat your bid the same as someone in the room or on the telephone. Most auction houses use partner sites (‘bidding platforms’) to make online live bidding as simple as possible. Most of these carry a fixed or percentage surcharge, and this can be anything from a few pounds to as much as 5%, so be aware before you decide.

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6. A last word

Much of buying and selling antiques, like any other acquisitions we make, can be down to being in the right place at the right time – in other words, just good luck. Sometimes changes in fashion and the economy might alter the market, especially the art world and precious metals, where prices can follow the bullion prices. But the more time and effort you put into it, the luckier you will be!

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