Editor's Note: Steve originally made the contribution reprinted below to our Discussion Forum. We thought that visitors to our Auctions pages would find it informative and helpful as well. Thanks Steve!
Randy Crist recently posted his reactions to his first experience at a major auction (in TurkoTek's "Auctions" section". (Editor's note: To read Randy's reactions to the April 1997 Skinner auction, click here.) It occurs to me that many of those who visit the TurkoTek site, even many of its regulars, have never attended such a sale and might be interested in how they work.
The previews, which generally run for several days before the sale, offer the opportunity to examine and handle from 200 to 400 textiles, and to discuss them with the auction house experts, serious collectors, and dealers. In short, there's hardly a better way to advance your education about rugs (ICOC and ACOR offer similar opportunities at their Dealer Fairs). Unless you intend to bid, attending the actual sale isn't particularly useful.
Randy notes the gap between catalog photos and actual rugs. Even when we remind ourselves that the catalog photo is to the rug as the menu is to the meal, it is often astonishing to discover how different than its photo a rug looks when you actually get to meet it. His caution against sight-unseen bidding is almost completely justified. However, there are some ways to reduce the risk of absentee bidding (remember, every textile purchase involves some risk). The staffs at Christie's (Jim Ffrench, head), Sotheby's (Mary Jo Otsea, head) and Skinner's (Jo Kris, head), the only houses with which I have first hand experience, are not only highly knowledgeable, they are honest and forthright. Ask a question, you'll get a straight answer. They're also glad to send you color photos, which are a big step forward from the black and white in which most pieces in the catalogs are illustrated. If you ask for one, sometimes they'll send you a 4 x 5 transparency of a piece. These are very high resolution photos with excellent color reproduction, and if you have access to a low power microscope (say, 20x to 30x), examining the transparency lets you see just about every detail you'd see if you could examine the rug from the front. I've bought several pieces from these houses after communicating with their people, and have never been disappointed or misled.
Randy also notes that the auctioneers move at a pace you'd find astonishing if your experience with auctions is only at local estate sales or (shudder!!!) hotel auctions. This is because nearly all the bidders are dealers, serious collectors, or decorators. They have made their decisions about what they want and what they'll pay before the sale actually begins. The pretty image at the front of the sale room during the bidding has little function other than to identify the piece, and the auctioneer knows that cajoling won't change any bids.
I hope this info is of interest to a few. I heartily recommend getting to some previews as a way to learn an awful lot about rugs in a short time. If you are new to Rugdom, bear in mind that all sales are final. Happy hunting!
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