In the majority of auctions it is necessary to buy a catalogue – think of it as the admission charge. They range in price from a few pounds at the lower end of the market to more than £15 or £20 at the top end. (Or get them as part of your membership to one of the sites!)
Many of the top auction houses will mail you every catalogue in a particular class for a fee; £50 per annum is the norm – good value indeed. Catalogues priced at £15 or £20 may seem exorbitant, but when you consider the amount of colour printing and research that has gone into it they compare rather favorably with art books of similar quality.
A more recent development has been the publishing of catalogues on the Internet where potential buyers can view and browse through them at their leisure from the comfort of their own homes.
Catalogues vary enormously. They can be anything from poorly photocopied lists of lot numbers and brief descriptions at local or regional auctions, to beautifully presented and printed books sent out to international clientele.
At the better auction houses much effort is put into the creation of their catalogues and many are almost works of art in their own right. After all, it is the major marketing too.
Catalogues generally follow a particular format. The cover will always contain a definition of the type of sale, for example, jewellery, fine art, stamps, and the date of the sale. In the case of important sales, the cover will give the name of the consignor if it is a single owner catalogue. In the case of a general catalogue, the vendors’ names may be listed, and are placed in the context of their particular lots. The sales number of the catalogue will generally appear on the spine or on the front cover.
Information will then follow on the exhibition schedule. The catalogue will also contain detailed listings of the standard terms and conditions of sale which are applicable to all items offered in that house’s auction. Pay particular attention to these and also to any special notes. Also, pay particular attention to the definition and the style of catalogue used by the auction house.
Many catalogues can be viewed on-line at GovernmentAuctionsUK.com or a link can be found directing you to the auction house’s website where their catalogues can be found. If an auction house has an on-line catalogue you can be assured you’ll have access to it through our site.
Sample Terms and Conditions
An example from Bonhams, one of the UK’s leading auction houses:
1. Conditions of Sale
All sales are subject to the Notices and Conditions of Sale, copies of which are posted in the saleroom, and are available on request.
2. Value Added Tax
There is no Value Added Tax payable on the ‘Hammer Price’, except where lots are marked with a ‘dagger’ when VAT, at the standard rate is payable on the Hammer Price.
3. Buyer’s Premium
A premium of 15% on the Hammer Price + VAT on the premium is payable on all lots up to £30,000, and 10% thereafter (except for specialised sales of coins and wine where the premium will be 10%) together with any VAT payable thereon.
Bonhams reserve the right to charge interest on all accounts outstanding over five days, together with storage and removal charges where applicable.
4. Saleroom Notices
Please check any saleroom notices, as these supersede catalogue descriptions.
5. Starting Times and Bidding
Please check the sale starting time and any withdrawals, as these will affect the time your lots come up.
6. Auction Speeds
Auction speeds can easily exceed 100 lots per hour, but please check with the department. Bidding steps are generally in increments of about 10%.
7. New Buyers
If you have not bought at Bonhams before, please make arrangements for payment prior to the sale. This will avoid delays as cheques must be cleared before purchases are released.
Payment by Credit Card
We are able to accept payment by Amex, Visa or MasterCard only. The service charge made by the credit card companies will be passed on to the user. A notice giving the current rate is posted at payment desks.
Commission bidders can settle accounts up to £2,000 by telephone to the cashiers’ office. However, it is a condition made by the credit card companies that no purchases settled in this way can be released until seven working days from the date of payment. Any shipment, postal or courier instructions must be given at this stage, so that the cost can be added to the credit card charges. Any other arrangements will have to be between the buyer and the shipper.
Switch, Connect and Delta cards are also accepted at Bonhams for which there is no service charge.
8. Collection by Agents
If an agent or carrier is collecting on behalf of a buyer and cannot produce the correct paperwork, including written authority from the buyer, then Bonhams will not release the property.
Explanation of Cataloguing Terms
Care is taken to ensure that any statement as to attribution, origin, date, age, provenance and condition is reliable and accurate but all such statements are statements of opinion only and are not to be taken as statements of representation or fact. Bonhams reserve the right, in forming their opinion, to consult and rely upon any expert or authority considered by them to be reliable.
Bonhams, both for themselves and for the seller of each lot point out that the following terms used in description have the meaning ascribed to them below:
1. Jacopo Bassano.
In our opinion a work by the artist. When the artist’s forename(s) is not known, a series of asterisks, followed by the surname of the artist, whether preceded by an initial or not, indicates that in our opinion the work is by the artist named.
2. Attributed to Jacopo Bassano.
In our opinion probably a work by the artist but less certainty as to authorship is expressed than in the preceding category.
3. Studio of Jacopo Bassano.
In our opinion a work by an unknown hand in the studio of the artist which mayor may not have been executed under the artist’s direction.
4. Circle of Jacopo Bassano.
In our opinion a work by an as yet unidentified but distinct hand – closely associated with the named artist but not necessarily his pupil.
5. Follower of Jacopo Bassano.
In our opinion a work by a painter working in the artist’s style, contemporary or nearly contemporary, but not necessarily his pupil.
6. Manner of Jacopo Bassano.
In our opinion works in the style of the artist and of a later date.
7. After Jacopo Bassano.
In our opinion, a copy of a known work of the artist.
8. The term signed and/ or dated and/or inscribed means that in our opinion the signature and/or date and/ or inscription are from the hand of the artist.
9. The term bears a signature and/or date and/or inscription means that in our opinion the signature and/ or date and/or inscription have been added by another hand.
Whilst Bonhams will endeavour to take all possible care, they cannot be held responsible for accidental damage to plaster picture frames.
So much for Bonham’s terms and conditions!
Which as one might expect from such a reputable and well-established organisation, are extremely comprehensive.
Not every catalogue will be as comprehensive as this. Whether it is a glossy printed brochure or book such as those produced by the top auction houses, or a badly typed and photocopied list, its role is the same.
By far the most important function of the catalogue is to list and number the objects in the order in which they will be sold at the auction. The numbers in this catalogue, known as “lot” numbers, correspond to those attached or next to each object or lot.
Next to a catalogue entry there may be a suggested price range, for example £50 – £80 or £1,000. These figures show the price which the auction house valuer expects the object to fetch and are known in the trade as the “estimate” or “guide price”. If there are no estimates printed in the catalogue, they may be pinned up in the sale room. If not, ask the auctioneer. However, estimates should only ever be taken as a rough guide – they are never a guarantee of the price at which something will be sold. Remember that estimates are not reserves, below which the auctioneer will not sell the item.
Ultimately, any antique, work of art or collectible, no matter how rare or how valuable is only worth at auction what people are willing to bid for it. It is this element of uncertainty that give auctions their certain appeal.