A Test of Will

A gentleman’s guide to fitting in at auction

You don’t really want it. You sure as hell don’t need it. But you’re transfixed, caught in the moment as the auctioneer’s bouncy voice grows faster and his arm flicks from one side of the room to the other. You have to have it. The more you bid, the more sure you become. At auction, when you see something you really want, all sense and reason drains from your being. ‘The knack is knowing when to pick your fights, and to recognise if you’re bidding on a legitimate lot,’ advises Henry Wyndham, Chairman of Sotheby’s Europe and one of the most experienced auctioneers working in the art market today. ‘Auction is a thrill, but it’s also a test of will power and research.’

One may go in hoping to secure a rare Roman coin for a collection, only to be swept up in the excitement of the occasion and consequently leave as the proud new owner of a pair of Joseph Manton duelling pistols. In fact, there are rumours of a man, a highly-respected numismatist, who very nearly found himself signing divorce papers after 30 happy years of marriage because he did the very same thing. For the uninitiated, a few simple guidelines will help you on your merry way.

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