I absolutely adore attending country auctions. I grew up attending remote estate and farm auctions; I remember them being hot and dusty — and boring — but my opinion has changed with adulthood. As my age increased, so did my attention span and interest in auctions. I confess buying at auction is my favorite way to purchase antiques and estate goods. If you want "barn-fresh" items (it doesn't matter if what you're after is cars, bicycles or egg baskets), it's the most rewarding to go straight to the barn!
On-site country auctions can be a boon for pickers because it weeds out a lot of buyers who are only mildly interested in what the sale has to offer. In my area, attending a country auction usually involves parking in a (hopefully mowed) field or along a roadside and hiking to the homestead or farmstead. If you're looking to buy large items, you need to be prepared and take a truck (and maybe even a trailer) so purchases can be removed from the premises on the sale day. Seating is usually not provided; lavatory facilities are the portable type; the weather may be inclement or it could be a balmy 90-plus degrees. You have to be really dedicated to the hunt to attend, but it can be very rewarding.
The best thing about auctions: Items go to those who want them the most (and, of course, have the budget to spend on them). I rarely experience buyer's remorse when it comes to auctions and antiques. I'm fortunate that my tastes are pretty simple, and I'm pretty prudent with my bidding. I bid up to what something is worth to me, and if someone else wants it more, and is willing to pay more, then good for them … and great for the consignor! Occasionally I regret not bidding - or not bidding higher - on something, and it haunts me. Last summer, I undecided in whether or not to jump into the bidding on a pair of Indiana Glass hens-on-nests. The pair - mint condition and still in boxes - went for just $15!
I counteract the regret with memories of wins. Many years ago, I had my eye on a Bakelite candlestick phone during an auction preview. The crowd was still milling around and doing more chatting than paying attention when the bidding began on the first item, which happened to be the candlestick phone. I won it for the opening bid of just $10!
You could say I'm competitive, but not overly so. I think sometimes people get sucked into bidding wars and bid too high because they make it personal and turn it into a competition not to win the item up for bid, but just to win (and not let the "other guy" have it). I've seen bidders actually running up the bid not to buy an item, but just to make someone else pay more. And sometimes it backfires and the curmudgeon ends up with the lot they didn't really want … that would be the price of their entertainment. They often shrug their shoulders, and do it again.
Those of us who grew up with the auction experience have an advantage over those who have never attended this type of sale. Live auctions are usually fast-paced and can be intimidating to the uninitiated. Do your friends a favor: The next time you attend a live auction, take a friend along and show them how much fun it can be and explain the auctioneer's cadence.
Don't Miss Wayne Jordan's column on Auction Drag: The bane of auctioneers