auction toronto

What to do at a live auction in Toronto

If there was ever a time when extraordinary extremity awareness is key, it would be during a live auction at the A.H. Wilkens warehouse on Queen East. In retrospect, then the two large coffees I guzzled before a recent morning auction was one of my poorer choices of late, as was my nonchalance about hurling my arms back in an occasional voracious stretch. I think I just provoked a discussion of imposing a minimum age limit on these sorts of events (to keep out the punks who can't keep still, and whatnot).

Indeed, I was certainly out of place at A.H. Wilkens' first antique estate auction of November. While the rest of the kids were at IKEA, I was sharing space with the 50+ year-olds who came armed with notes (written-out, no less!), ready to make some incredible buys. I, naively, thought I was right on par. I had perused the pictures and descriptions of items that would be for sale beforehand online, I skimmed the list of general auction need-to-knows, and came equipped with both an extra pen and an additional cup of coffee. I was going to nab some awesome one-of-a-kinds for my apartment at a great price.

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My dream faltered, however, and I left empty handed. While some astute buyers went home with treasures such as a German cookbook dated 1777 for $120, a collection of four carved Inuit birds for an incredible $90, and the walnut Art Deco chair for which, sadly, I had already planned a space, I had nothing. Well, that's not exactly true; I did leave with a lot of sentences starting with "Damn, I should have...", a type of hindsight which, in the spirit of great salvage hunting, I will now pass on. Just you wait, next fabulous estate auction, I'm coming prepared, and I will conquer.

Here are some things to keep in mind if heading to your first Toronto auction:

The final bid isn't the final price

That should be in bold, italicized, and double underlined. While I sat dopey-eyed at the prospect of bidding on a 14K, 24g white gold Omega watch starting at $250, I kept forgetting about the additional costs that would be tacked on after purchase. A buyer's premium of 17% is added to each sale, as well as 13% tax. That's 30%! The final bid for the watch was $475, but the buyer will end up spending over $600. You better be able to do some quick math in your head, or else determine how much you're willing to spend ahead of time.

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Attend a preview

I thought my Internet research was enough perusal--not so! (This lazy generation and their online shopping, eh?) I should have known that some items, especially furniture, would look totally different in person. The other advantage of attending a preview, which is usually held the day and/or a few hours before a live auction, is that you may be able to speak with staff to garner how much interest there has been in a particular piece, allowing you to better prepare for your bid. That and making nice with the auctioneer. Hey, whatever helps, right?

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Know your manners

Unlike many country auctions, people in this city take these things seriously. I've stumbled upon a few Muskoka auctions where auctioneers will toss plates in the air as a form of display. Needless to say, you won't find that in Toronto (where I actually witnessed a man hiss at a couple who were taking too loudly). Come prepared, and only consult with the bean counter in your life quietly or outside of the room. Oh, and keep caffeine to a minimum (see "punks who can't keep still," above).

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Request a list ahead of time

This point is two-fold. One, you'll know the order in which items will be auctioned off. I sat twiddling my thumbs for hours, literally, waiting for the lot to move past antique figurines. (Sorry, Royal Doulton; you just aren't my thing.) If you know your items of interest are later down the line, you can afford to trickle in a little past the start. Also, by requesting a list ahead of time you'll be able to do some research into what it means to see "David Gilhooly," allowing you to determine if it's worth it to invest in a piece.

Be aware

When it's down to two bidders, the slightest nod confirms a bid. (Bad news for the perpetually agreeable.) Eye contact is also key, as I witnessed many bidders think they had won a sale, only to realize the auctioneer was actually looking at someone else when later requesting their paddle number. Needless to say, any unnecessary gesture in the auction room is a no-no, especially since (at most auctions) everything is final sale.

auction toronto

Photos by Natta Summerky


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