Ever been curious about antiques auctions?  With estimates sometimes as low as £40-80, you might just find a hidden gem.

So you’d like to go to an auction, but you don’t know… how? Or you’d like to sell, but the same thing applies? Well read on, the good news is it’s actually quite simple. And by keeping objects, artworks and furniture in circulation, it’s environmentally-friendly too.


If you have a special area of interest, for example designer handbags or art deco furniture, go along to a specialist saleOtherwise, a good place to start is a general sale.

Buying at an auction

First find out what sales are coming up and what the viewing times are from the auction house website. Usually an auction house will have specialist department sales, such as jewellery, books, fashion, 20th century, antiquities. And you can often view sales catalogues online as well as in person.

On the day

Register at the auction house’s  reception – bring proof of your identity and address. You’ll be given a buyer number and a bidding card. Then just go through to the sale room and wait for the auction to get going!


Call out, put your hand up, hold up your bidding card or give a clear nod: just make sure it’s clear you’re bidding. If the auctioneer misses you – and the bidding is still at a level you’re happy with – repeat until you’ve been seen.


If you can’t come in person on the day, you can leave a commission bid. This means registering as a buyer and letting the auction house know your maximum bid. The auctioneer will purchase the lot, or lots, you’re interested in on your behalf for as low a price as possible – depending on other bids made and any reserve price on the lot.

Online bidding

You can even bid online for many auctions – just register on the-saleroom.com or invaluable.co.uk and connect to the auction of your choice when it starts.


Auction houses will charge a buyer’s premium plus VAT on all bought lots. For example, if the premium is 20% and you’re the highest bidder on a lot at £100, the total amount you’d pay, including buyer’s premium plus VAT (on the premium not the lot price!), is £124.


Entering a lot for sale

Selling is simple too. First, bring your item in to be valued by the auction house to see what it may be worth in the current market and if this meets the auction house’s minimum value amount. This is the lowest value at which they can accept items. Different auction houses will sell items at different value thresholds.

Remember, upholstered furniture made after 1950 must have a fire label in order to be legally sold. 

Estimates and reserves

If your item’s accepted, the valuer will give it an estimate as a guide for bidders. You can discuss a reserve price if you don’t want it to sell for less than a certain amount. If you’re not able to come in person, post or email photographs of your item.


You’ll be given a receipt for your items, with the sale date. You don’t need to attend the sale unless you want to. You’ll be notified of the results and if your item sold you’ll receive payment for the hammer price minus selling charges. Check charges before entering your item for sale, they can be around 20%.

The most important part – enjoy!


More information

  • Find out more about the auction process, and the antiques market, on the Antiques Gazette website
  • Follow auction houses on twitter to get alerts for their upcoming sales
  • Watch shows like Bargain Hunt, Four Rooms, Flog It and Antiques Roadshow for extra tips