Sunday, March 6, 2011

Oops, I Bid It Again

The American Decorative Arts auction at the Skinner Galleries is in progress right now, and I decided to sign up to see what the two cat paintings I like will sell for.

Getting there wasn't easy; the site said I was registered but didn't recognize any of the passwords I normally use, so I had to re-register with a different email address. But the new registration had to be personally approved by someone before it was valid. That happened a little while ago, while I was in the shower. All of a sudden, I can watch live bidding — and I can bid.

During the bidding for some old duck decoy, I hit the bright green "BID NOW!" button as an experiment, to see how many screens I'd have to get through to actually place a bid. I'm used to bidding on eBay, so I figured that there were a few steps required to place an actual bid.  I wanted to see what the process was like on the very, very, slim, teeny-tiny chance that no one is interested in the Possum Ancestral portrait and I could pick it up at its reserve price....

WRONG. I had bid several hundred dollars on the decoy. Luckily, someone else wanted it or I'd have been stuck with it.

Dopey duck decoy #19: not my kind of thing, but almost mine

Avoiding that green "BID NOW!" is taking up all my emotional energy this afternoon, even though I'm not the slightest bit interested in anything else I saw at the auction preview. It's so commanding, exclamatory, and green:

Don't you want to press this? Are you sure?

I'm dangerous at auctions, which is why I never go. In my 30s, I went to a few, got caught up in the excitement, waved my paddle a lot, and won vintage clothes and hats, and even old sewing basket — and I had no idea why. For some, alcohol, gambling, and/or drugs are a fatal weakness; for me it's auctions. I resolved to go cold turkey and stay out of auction halls forever. And I have.

But I obviously need to stay away from this kind of online auction, too, which is different from the thoughtful, measured approach I take on eBay, where I'm a cagey, 12-year veteran. I figure out my best price and use eSnipe so I can't panic at the last minute and bid at a higher amount.

For those of you who were wondering, as I was, whether auction previews are a good place to meet someone for a potential romance, I can report that the pickings were disappointing on the afternoon I went. My fellow browsers were elderly collectors with eyes for only Chinese export porcelain or prints, a younger couple bickering over furniture, and a nervous, middle-aged guy who who gave me what I thought was a suspicious glare. But it turned out that this was his customary expression. On the other hand, Skinner's bevy of attendants, stationed around the items, all seemed like charming young women. There were no men in the group.

From the selling prices of today's auction, people are going nuts, rabidly bidding thousands of dollars over the estimates on all kinds of ordinary-looking porcelain, furniture, paintings, and dopey duck decoys. It's clear that I'm way out of the running on the cat portrait unless the whole crowd wears itself out over the previous 347 lots and runs out of money.

That's okay; I think I'll go for a walk and skip watching the rest of the action; the cat paintings won't come up until late afternoon at this rate. I can check out the winning bids later. Besides, my own four cats are all far more wonderful than any painting.

Update: As I sat on my hands, the "Possum ancestral" painting sold for triple the $800–$1,200 estimate: $3,250, not including the 18.5% buyer's premium. The painting of the orange cat sold for $3,000. What have we gleaned from this experience? Someone with a gallery specializing in fine cat paintings could make a little fortune.

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