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Reflections on November’s Chinese auctions from an online bidder’s point of view

online auctions3  We wrote a few weeks ago about the plethora of Chinese art auctions during November, the difficulties of getting around them all and our decision to, instead, bid online (http://chineseart.co.uk/blog/welcome-to-november-and-a-uk-asian-auction-virtually-every-day/). Well, it has certainly been a highly instructive experience to attempt to do all our buying online and we thought it might be interesting to record our very mixed experiences.

In all, we bid on just nine auctions, two of which we viewed and the balance viewed either online or from a catalogue supplied by the auctioneers. Bidding was generally successful in digital terms although there some notable failures. We registered on Dreweatts own site for their Asian Sale at Castle Donnington. Unfortunately, it was a disaster. We were interested in the section in which the Peter Arlidge Collection of Song ceramics was to sold and had identified three lots we were determined to buy. Horror of horrors, when we depressed the BID button, absolutely nothing happened and it was clear our bids were not registering at all. We rebooted and re-registered but the bids we made took so long to register that the lots were sold before we could get into the running. In one instance, by the time our bid of £110 was registered on the screen, bidding had already reach £700! We got nothing and were very disappointed . . .

We successfully bid in the Lyon & Turnbull London sale (having previously viewed it) although there was anasty shock using the Invaluable site: after just three lots (none of which we bid on) an electronic notice flashed up on the screen saying se had exhausted our £10,000 credit limit! I had a sudden fear that our feline friend had wandered across the keyboard and bid on our behalf! Fortuitously, I had L&T’s number in London and called them and they reinstated our ability to bid with a new £50,000 limit.

Later in the week, we viewed a sale at Borders Auctions in Hawick which had a couple of dozen serious Chinese interest items. The night before the sale we filed a dozen Autobids with The-Saleroom.com. This turned out to be a lucky move as the connection with the auction came and went with multiple freezes which lasted for five or ten minutes a time. In the event, we got everything we wanted using our recorded auto-bids. If we had relied on bidding live we might have just got half of them.

The other sales we participated in went much more smoothly. Having bid successfully, of course, we then had the challenge of getting our lots back to our location in the Scottish Borders. We found the prices quoted by The-Saleroom’s affiliate Mailboxes Etc far too expensive: on one three-figure lot bought from Dukes, the cost of packing and carriage exceeded the cost of the lot itself. We got a much more competitive price from the specialist fine art carriers Aardvark which was a third of that quoted by Mailboxes Etc. From a couple of the houses, we drove and collected ourselves which was cheaper and less stressful.

Our verdict on the success or otherwise of our experimental new strategy has to be that physical attendance at a sale where there are items of even modest interest has to be a must. We shall probably bid in fewer auctions, but we shall try to get there ourselves and simply put the miles on the clock rather than hours behind the screen!

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