Getting the most from bidding at auction: do your homework and keep to a budget

Apr 30, 2021, 8 AM

Acquiring stamps and postal history for your collection via bidding at an auction can be a rewarding or frustrating experience.

If, like me, you prefer to avoid frustration, or if you have never bid in an auction, here are some basic pointers to get you started.

First, do your homework.

If you have a particular auction in mind, get a copy of the catalog well in advance of the sale.

Either ask the auction house to send you a copy (some firms charge for their catalogs), or see if you can view a copy online. In some cases, the online catalog may be downloaded.

Although it can make for rather bland reading, spend some time reviewing (or reading, if a first timer) the terms of sale.

Here you will find the nuts and bolts of how the firm conducts its sales: definition of the highest bidder, paying for lots (included associated fees such as the buyer’s premium and shipping costs), requesting an extension for the purposes of obtaining expertization, and so on.

Now it’s time to review the items that are appealing to you. Carefully read the description for each lot and compare it to the illustration.

If a particular item is not pictured, ask the auction house to send you a copy.  They are happy to do so.

When considering a cover, it is often helpful to get a picture of the back side, which is typically not shown in the catalog.

Pay attention to any faults or other blemishes that are described, and decide if any are deal breakers for you.

Bear in mind that described faults are not grounds for returning an item after the sale.

If an item has a provenance, or list of previous owners, do some research to find out when the item was sold in the past and for how much.

Having such information at hand will help guide your decisions regarding how much to bid.

If you intend to bid in an auction online, take note of the approximate times when your items are to come up for sale.

Ensure that you are registered to bid ahead of time and that your Internet connection is stable.

It is helpful to connect to the sale when it begins and then check in periodically.

Before that first stamp or cover even hits the auction block, determine the most you are willing to pay for each item you intend to bid on, as well as a spending cap, or limit bid, for the entire sale.

Once your limit bid is reached, no more bids will be placed on your behalf.

When calculating these figures, don’t forget to include the buyer’s premium and all associated shipping costs.

Are you going to have an auction agent bid on your behalf at the sale? Then the agent’s fee also should be added to the total.

Sticking resolutely to your preset spending limits also means doing your best to avoid a bidding war with another collector who might have pockets much deeper than yours.

In short, stay informed and budget prudently for an optimal auction experience.

For more helpful tips about auctions, please see the Stamp Collecting Basics column in the Jan. 12 issue of Linn’s.

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