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Buying at auction, be it for stamps or coins, antiques or even cattle, can be one of the most exciting and profitable experiences possible. It can also be expensive and utterly frustrating. The best way to come out ahead is to learn the tricks of the trade early. Here are some suggestions that should help you get on the fast track to success.
(1) Do your research. Knowledge is your most important tool, even more important than money.
(2) Learn how to be inconspicuous.
(3) Beware of zombies, shills and lunatics. The best way to avoid them is
(4) Hire an agent.
(5) Be selective. Don't be afraid to spend the extra dollar when something especially rare or in exceptional condition comes your way. You may never get another chance.
(1) Every experienced buyer knows how important knowledge is. Questions of authenticity, condition, and rarity are always the key considerations. If you are fortunate enough to have both knowledge and money, you have the world by the tail. But even if you have limited funds you can still do very well if you know something the rest of the potential buyers don't.
(2) Once you have spotted something you want to buy, fade into the woodwork as much as possible. The last thing you want to do is attract attention to yourself or the lot you are interested in. After you've been around long enough, your competition will find out who you are. Until then try to keep as low a profile as possible and guard your information. Use a code system to keep track of your limits. I'm constantly amazed at how careless some bidders are with their auction catalogs and what they write in them.
(3) Zombies, shills and lunatics are every auction bidder's nightmare. If a zombie knows who you are, he/she will follow your every move. Their motto is: if that person is willing to spend a hundred dollars for a lot, I sure can afford to spend a hundred and ten. Most people know what a shill is. It is someone working for the auction house or seller who artificially pushes up prices by bidding against you. In order for an item to get a good price, two or more bidders must be interested in it. Shills are especially skilled at figuring out how high you are willing to go. Lunatics are the ones who absolutely have to have a lot and will bid whatever it takes to win it. The best way to deal with these three worthies is to hire an agent to bid for you.
(4) Agents are professionals who have developed skills at bidding at auction. One famous New York stamp auction agent was so skilled at hiding his bids that only the auctioneer and a few other people ever knew how he did it. As strange as it may sound, paying an auction agent the extra 2-5% fee may save you many hundreds of dollars or more in the long run. The zombies, shills and lunatics won't know who is bidding against them.
(5) Finally, one of the most important skills of all is the ability to recognize when to open up the purse strings. Condition and rarity are the two most important determinants of price. The exceptional item is always worth an extra bid or two. One customer who was examining my stamps at a national stamp show remarked, "I've been looking for this one for more than 40 years and you have a very nice copy. But I never pay more than half catalog for anything." I wished him well. It was a scarce stamp and I expect he'll still be looking if he lives another 40 years.
To summarize: knowledge is the primary key to success at auction bidding. Secondly, develop your skills as a bidder and buyer. Then, learn to recognize the individuals you will have to deal with on the auction floor. Cross them up and use and agent. And finally, know when to pay a premium for the exceptional item.
Best of luck!
John Anderson has been bidding at auction for more than forty years and has purchased hundreds of stamps, antiques and collectibles that way. Now semi-retired from stamps he is a full-time writer. His first novel, The Cellini Masterpiece, was published under the pseudonym of Raymond John. He is now hard at work on his second, and an auction plays an important role in the plot. If you would like to contact John or read the first chapter of The Cellini Masterpiece, please log on at: http://www.cmasterpiece.com
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