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Advice From the Back Row

Margaret Caldwell, furniture specialist and private antiques dealer, on what to do before you bid.

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Measure everything
“Measuring your space seems like a no-brainer, but people often forget to ask themselves, ‘Wait, can this fit in the elevator? Can it fit around the corner in my stairwell or make it down the hall?’ Auction houses are big spaces, so furniture can look smaller than it really is.”

Be skeptical
“It’s not a good piece until you find out what’s wrong with it. Red flags with furniture include fabulous inlays, fancy veneers—all stuff that could have been added later. With tables and chairs, look at the arms and feet for broken, spliced, or married pieces. Most auctions will let you take furniture apart to examine its structure.”

Sit strategically
“Like in the back of the room and to the side, so you can see everyone who is bidding.”

Stay cool
“Don’t stick your paddle up right away or act like you’re in it till the bitter end; that marks you as prey. Instead, wait until the auctioneer is down to two bidders, or even the final bid, and then pop up your paddle.”

Remember the fees
“Watch out for buyers’ premiums—the commission an auction house adds to the hammer price. On top of that, there’s often tax, and if you’re using an adviser, it’s another 10 percent of the hammer price.”


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