Dee Atkinson and Harrison auctioneer Graham Paddison’s invaluable bidding guide to buying at auction

The staff at Dee Atkinson and Harrison's saleroom

The staff at Dee Atkinson and Harrison's saleroom

Have your say

Many people are nervous about buying at auction and there are lots of myths about the saleroom. In fact, if you do your homework and observe a few common sense rules then bidding is not only very simple but can also be great fun.

Auctions are almost invariably exciting and interesting happenings with lashings of drama and tension even hopefully a few dashings of comedy, thrown together to produce a heady mix with an enduring appeal.

Many people are a little apprehensive about mixing it in the saleroom and there are probably few novice bidders who do not have at least a few butterflies as “their” lots come up for the first few times.

Come to think of it there are probably few experienced bidders who do not feel rather tense as a particularly important lot comes up.

In reality bidding is really quite simple but perhaps a couple of the more well-known myths should be explored first.

Contrary to rumour, if you scratch your nose, twitch, wink or wave to a friend who has just entered the saleroom then you are not going to end up with a stuffed water buffalo which is going to fill the living room and send the bank manager into outer space. It just doesn’t happen.

Secondly to buy at auction you have got to be rich – right? WRONG!

There are reasonably priced lots, even bargains, in every auction. Sure some very fine pieces of antique furniture can make thousands of pounds…..but then brand new furniture isn’t these days exactly cheap on the high street.

Even though these lots tend to be the ones which grab the headlines the vast majority of things in an antique auction in this region will make under £100.

What is very important is to view the sale in advance and to check the condition of the items that you are interested in very carefully.

All auctions have a separate viewing session on the two days prior to the sale as well as on the sale morning before proceedings commence.

At the Driffield saleroom the view days are Wednesday 10am to 7pm and Thursdays 10am to 4pm for Antique and Fine Art auctions which take place on

Fridays and Thursdays and Fridays for the fortnightly Victorian and General and some specialist sales which take place on Saturdays. They are all advertised in the Driffield Times and other newspapers.

The auction catalogue will contain quite a lot of information about a piece.

It will not usually mention faults or damage – bidders are expected to look for themselves and make up their own minds. The catalogue will provide a guideline as to what a lot is expected to make.

A pre-sale estimate is just that, an educated view about the value of a piece. It can be that if two collectors are particularly determined to have something the price will soar way over the estimate.

Conversely something which you rate quite highly can attract little interest and go way under pre-sale estimate.

Once you have overcome your nerves bidding is very easy; indeed you do not even need to be in the room. On the view days you can fill in a form and leave what is known as a commission or absentee bid, in which case the auctioneer will bid for you….and get the lot as cheaply as possible.

If you are not able to attend but do wish to bid personally you can arrange to do so by telephone if the value of the lot is above a certain level.

Many auctions these days are live online auctions which means you can bid in real time from anywhere in the world via the internet.

All you have to do is log onto the host site, register your details, wait for your particular lots to come up and bid by pushing a button on the keyboard, just as if you were in the saleroom bidding.

If you decide to bid in person in the room you need to register and obtain a buyers number. When your lot comes up it is probably not a bad idea to see how the bidding goes and then come in firmly.

Don’t wait too long…even in an antique and Fine Art sale the auctioneer is aiming to sell at around 100-120 lots an hour, so it is all going to be over in around 30 seconds.

Wave to catch the auctioneer’s eye and once you have caught his attention he will keep coming back to you until you shake your head in defeat or the hammer comes down and you have triumphed.

It is fun but one final word of advice – decide what your limit is and stick to it.

People do get carried away in the heat of battle and it is possible to find yourself paying out more than you intended.

Now what are you going to bid for this stuffed water buffalo – wonderful condition – not something you see in many living rooms in East Yorkshire?

By Graham Paddison,


Back to the top of the page