Hero of R101
Volume 50, Number 5, May 2012
A TECHNICAL hitch at a London sale we attended recently meant that bidding couldn’t take place via their internet bidding system. This, on the surface, would seem a trifle inconvenient but little more, after all the ‘phones were fully manned and anyone wanting to place a bid could simply give the auction house a call, however, such is the importance of “new” technology (I use the inverted commas because whilst we consider the internet to be new it has actually been around for the best part of two decades now) that the decision was taken to postpone the sale for an hour until the system was up and running — a decision fully supported by the vendor (of at least the first part of the sale) who, naturally, wanted to maximise the number of people bidding on his lots. It may seem an unlikely scenario but there was talk (at least by those of us in attendance) that the sale may be have to be put off entirely until another date, although the auctioneer seemed to think that very unlikely and within the hour the company’s “techies” had sorted the problem and on-line bidding resumed as normal. I was surprised that there was any talk at all of postponement, after all there had been ample opportunities to place bids in other ways — commission bids direct with the auctioneer, proxy bids through a third party attending on the day or the previously mentioned telephone bids — but it seems enough people were expected to log on to bid live on-line that without the internet link there was a very real possibility that the sale might not go ahead at all. The on-line bidding systems have become such an integral part of the auction process these days that to start a sale without one in operation is now, apparently, unthinkable. Now whilst I fully support attempts by any auctioneer to maximise exposure of the sale and get as many bidders as possible to achieve the best price for the vendor I cannot help but feel this reliance on the “new” systems is in some ways a backwards step. The attendance at this particular London house was around about 25–30 bidders (at least in the morning session — I am told that the big gallantry highlights in the afternoon attracted more) but on-line there were a couple of hundred or more bidders, many of whom in days gone by would have attended the sale in person. Of course, the internet has made bidding from overseas incredibly easy and for many in the UK the ease of sitting at one’s desk listening to the auction whilst still being able to get on with everyday life is a Godsend. Supporters of the new system also say that easier bidding means better prices but I’m not so sure. I have bought many things at auction — some in person, some by commission, some by proxy—but on every occasion if I wanted something I would go for it, somehow, and whilst the internet may make it slightly easier it doesn’t affect how much I am prepared to pay for something. Like many buyers I have a limit and stick to it and sitting at my desk listening to an auction on-line doesn’t change that. However, my real concern with regard to internet bidding isn’t whether it gets better prices or not but rather where it will lead to. In an increasingly frantic world with time being more and more precious I can see a scenario where the auctioneer is standing in the room on his own, surrounded by monitors, taking bids from persons unknown, no-one in the room with him except perhaps a “techie” making sure things run smoothly, no one with any time to spare to actually view the sale as it should be, just a lot of faceless bidders logging on, buying and logging off, all “real” human interaction gone. As I mentioned I do understand why internet bidding is an absolute Godsend for some but one collector I was talking to recently (a chap with an interesting pink hue to his hair and an odd obsession with mortar shells and similar ordnance although I am sure that isn’t relevant) told me that whilst he lived less than two miles (as the crow flies) from his local auction house he simply couldn’t be bothered to attend, he’d rather bid on line and I think that is a great shame. Auctions have always been an integral part of our hobby; have always been hugely important both as places to buy and also places to go to feel part of the something bigger. The internet is great, it has opened up a whole new world for many of us and it does have its part to play in auctions but if it is at the expense of the auction as we have known it for years, if internet bidding takes the place of being in the room, if buying things is just a matter of clicking a button rather than actually going along and being part of it all then I’m not a fan. Call me a Luddite by all means but my answer to that is just because something is easier that doesn’t mean it is better. Yes, the internet and all it offers has given us many new opportunities but sitting in front of a computer can be a lonely place and there really is no substitute for real live human interaction! It may not be possible for us all — those living in the Outback, west of the Rockies or even down here in Devon may find it difficult to get to a London sale room, I accept that, however, I will leave you with this thought — if you do live near an auction house then go along once in a while, attend in person rather than just as an anonymous number on-line. Be part of this great institution of our hobby, do it before you don’t have a chance to anymore because the auction, as we know it, no longer exists — who knows you may even enjoy the experience!
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