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