The Big Question | How Do You Keep the Bids Coming?
“This is work I’ve always known. Where I grew up in Arkansas, my parents had a small auction and antiques shop. During our childhood my sister and I were dragged to auctions and flea markets. I remember thinking, I’m never going to do this. But then when I was in college, Sotheby’s sold all the Jackie Kennedy stuff, and I thought it was so amazing. It was the first time I saw auctioneering as something more than just something I had to do. I eventually came back to it. It’s familiar, and I like antiques and art.”
“A lot of people think going fast is the most important thing. Yes, you have to keep the pace up, but if you’re going so fast that people can’t understand you, or you’re missing bids, you’re doing a disservice to your consigners. You need to be clear, and you have to be pleasant. I’ve gone to an auction where the auctioneer got mad because nobody was bidding. He finally snapped, ‘I don’t even know why you people came!’ You have to be in control without seeming controlling. Bidders don’t like to think that they’re being told what to do, but at some point you have to drop the hammer, because if you wait for them they’ll take as long as you give them.”
“Make sure you always go to the bathroom. One time I was doing a charity auction in Provincetown, and there were 125 lots. I was the only one at the podium and drinking water when all of a sudden I got to lot 75 and I thought, Oh my gosh, there’s nobody here to relieve me. I got to 100 and said, ‘You know, it’s been a very fun night and I’ve had a lot of water, so take a break, go to the bar.’ Everyone there had a good laugh.”
“People have a lot of different ways of bidding. There’s one guy who blinks; he just sits in the front row, his paddle beside him. Another says, ‘Yes’–but you’re never really sure whether he’s talking to you. I love the ones who hold their paddles up; it’s very clear what they’re doing.”
“A big misconception about working at an auction house, and especially about being an auctioneer, is Oh, it’s so glamorous; you must get dressed up. The truth is, I’m in a lot of basements and attics, and I see a lot of mouse poop. That chair you’re looking at, it didn’t come from a Newport mansion. It came from someone’s cellar.”
“It can happen, for whatever reason, that you sometimes miss a bid. When that happens, the person may come up to you at the podium. You say you’re sorry and you try to explain it, but they’re still yelling at you: I was bidding, I was bidding! You have to keep going. Once the auctioneer says, ‘Sold,’ the hammer falls and that’s it.”
“Sometimes the consigners are in the audience, and that can go either way. One time I took in a Chinese porcelain tea service. The owner had inherited it, and she was surprised that I’d [appraised] it for $1,500. That was higher than she’d expected. The day of the auction came, and she was there, and the bids started coming in. It got to $7,500 and she was practically hyperventilating. Everyone in the room knew whom it belonged to. Well, it ended up bringing in $15,000. She was just beside herself.”