The Rich Rewards of Online Furniture Auctions, and How to Get Started

SOME PEOPLE listening to white noise to decompress, but during this strange year of isolation, I found unexpected joy in the songs and cries of the online auctioneers. It turns out he’s full! is one hell of a dopamine rush.

But I’m not a high roller. In the past months, without leaving my couch, I came across a box of old Delft tiles, a set of old copper instruments, a 19th century wood merchant’s wall cupboard and a set of antiques. Not a single piece sold for more than $600, and most sold for less than $100.

Auctioning can scare the uninitiated, but let’s make one thing clear: If you’re worried about accidentally buying a $10,000 ashtray, it’s almost impossible. On most online auction platforms, buyers must go through at least two steps before they can bid, by creating a user account on the host site and then registering to bid on a separate auction site.

Antique needle tapestry, opening bid $200, closing bid $200, fire auction via live auctioneers


Matthew Cook (carpet), Lucy Khan (paddle)

I also doubt if anything from the auction house has anything to do with the sale of Tiffany glasses or Lady Di’s dresses. Not that way.

They are certainly intimidating at first, but for me, auctions are the magical middle ground between high-end antique dealers and big box shops like

Catering material

and West Elm, said

Molly Blankenship,

a design consultant from Manhattan who documents her findings at an auction under the pseudonym Instagram @notallbeige.

Thanks to aggregators such as LiveAuctioneers, Invaluable and Bidsquare working with auctioneers around the world, you have access to hundreds of sales at any time of the day. In response to market developments and the concerns of Covid-19, many small businesses are relocating their businesses online as well. For example, Clearing House Estate Sales, a real estate removal service in Bridgeport, Connecticut, currently conducts more than 200 online auctions per month in New England and the tri-state area using the AuctionNinja platform. According to her CEO.

Sam Grossman,

The majority of sales go to middle and upper class households that are relocating or downsizing.

These auctions can be a first hunting ground for upholstered, antique and collectible furniture, ranging from big hits like the four majolica plates shown below, which for $16 at, to well-made mid-century pieces from well-known manufacturers such as Broyhill, Baker and


This costs reliably three times as much on retail sites of makers such as 1Dibs and Chairish.

Set of 4 plates of Maiolica flowers, opening bid $5, closing bid $16, auctioned via AuctionNinja


Matthew Cook (sign), Lucy Khan (paddle).

You want to take part in the action, but you’re afraid you don’t know the reserve price for your right knee? To facilitate the learning curve, I asked auction experts how to do it and how to do it well.

See only

Initially, auction conventions may be unknown. That’s why interior designers

Courtney Coleman.


Bill Brokschmidt,

Located in New York City and New Orleans, offer an outdoor view that you can take without registering as a user. Sometimes platforms broadcast live auctions, Coleman said. If you follow it, you will feel its rhythms and peculiarities before you dive into it.

Prior to the sale, the auction houses publish catalogues with photos, short descriptions and an estimate of the market value of each item. Observing it can be fascinating and instructive. You will see models – one auctioneer may specialise in porcelain and silverware, the other in American antiques.

Simplicity in

Create a user account that also gives you access to the prices at which the items have been sold in previous auctions. In addition to retaining the credit card number, the criteria for approval differ from lawyer to lawyer, and some are stricter than others. If you want to be ready, you should start the process at least one full day before the sale.

Andrew Taggart,

A specialist at the auction house Freeman in Philadelphia, offers newcomers the opportunity to search for auctions, the so-called discovery sales. These are usually eclectic collections with lower prices so that new sellers can dive into them without fear of a bad investment.


Whether you are specifically looking for the Eastlake mirror or have found it in a catalogue, research similar items to get an idea of what is available and what you might need to spend, said Blankenship. For example, LiveAuctioneers is looking for price results for the Eames Lounge 670, an iconic tufted leather and ottoman armchair designed by Charles and Ray Eames that has recently had over 600 sales. They show that dry kits sell for about $3,000, while worn and leaking fillings sell for about $1,500 or less. (Produced by the original manufacturer

Herman Miller

since 1956, the new duo starts at $6,995).

To save on shipping and administration costs,

Amy Mitchell,

The founder of Home Glow Designs in Hopkinton, NY, recommends the use of features such as the LiveAuctioneers Near Me card to focus on selling within approximately 90 miles of your home. You’d be surprised how many there are.

molded plywood chair with Eames tags, Opening bid $100, Closing bid $250, Camelot Auctions


Matthew Cook (chair), Lucy Hahn (paddle)…

Working with overview

In the weeks leading up to the sale, most auction houses offer previews so that potential buyers can open drawers and check for scratches on items that have caught their attention in the catalogue. Because of Covid-19 a lot of people only made appointments when you can’t make it, Brokschmidt said, there are workarounds. When we look at dining room chairs or upholstered furniture, we often ask the auction house to send us a video of someone sitting on it. It’s amazing how much you can tell about the comfort of a chair just by looking at a person’s face and body language. Blankenship noted that good auction houses like to send extra photos and give more details than indicated. Mr. Taggart from Freeman, I agree. FaceTime conversations have certainly become a standard, and it’s great to be able to ask questions about the moment instead of going back and forth via email.

Be realistic

The hammer price, or final offer, is never the end result. Most homes charge a premium or commission of 15-30% to the buyer, as well as sales tax. It may be necessary to deliver large or remote items. Ms. Blankenship proposes to get a free quote from a company like UShip before committing. If your preferred system needs to be repaired or reconnected, please add these services.

Once you’ve decided on a budget, many online auctions allow bidders to place their best and highest bid in advance, so you can escape the adrenaline rush of live competition. Decide what you want, place the maximum bid and go away, Mr. Grossman said. When the auction is over, you can go back and see what you’ve won, knowing you haven’t been conned.

Searching for missing batches

The items are auctioned in the order of lot numbers; sometimes a group of items, such as an antique brass set on which I bid, is offered as one lot. Some auction houses set a minimum amount that the seller accepts for a lot, the so-called reserve price. The estimated price is what it appears to be, and bids under that number can be a winner (see lug chair below). At the end of the auction you will find transfer lots – items that would not normally be sold because they have not reached the reserve price or have not received bids. Taggard emphasized that there is nothing wrong with approaching an auction house with a bid.

And don’t forget that every experienced buyer has a story about the one who escaped. I always curse the fact that this summer I got a modernist watercolor signed and framed with early 20th century New York houses. Century (see below) slipped through my fingers. But I know that there will be other auctions and other paintings that I will love and that I will not lose.


Offers of furniture, accessories and works of art that have been in someone else’s home.


Marion’s Antique Auction Marion

Charming art

When bidding on works of art, take into account the value of the framing. Adelaide Lawson Gaylor (1889-1986, New York) watercolor, sold for $350, Marion Antique Auctions via


Anything but stupid.

Oscillating service

A similar set without salt and pepper shaker and large jug is available for $900 on the Chairish Marketplace. Medieval-modern Royal Holland pewter coffee and tea set with shakers, for sale for $235,


Clark Auction Gallery

Dining table set for clothing

This suite by Hans Olsen for Frem Rojle, which includes an additional catering service, is listed as an antique on the Pamono website for a considerably higher price ($7,696). Modernist 5-piece dinner service sold at $1,700, Clark Auctions Gallery via



Main Throne

This crew chair sells for much less than the estimated $600 to $800. Carved mahogany George II style chair, sold for $320, Stairs Galleries via


Camelot Auction

Luxury safe

Large rooms are often the best bargains, such as this 1890 oak porcelain cabinet with its glass doors and carvings. $750,

The Wall Street Journal is not paid for by retailers who appear in its articles as selling merchandise. The shops mentioned are often not the only ones.

Plus in design and decoration

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