It’s not well known but auctions are public, you can go there to try to get a good deal or just have fun because it’s a show in itself.
This is what I decided to do when I went to attend auctions in the mythical Drouot auction room in Paris.
How to attend auctions at Drouot?
It can seem intimidating at first glance because when you hear about auctions, it’s usually when a Picasso has broken a sales record. You tell yourself that it’s reserved for an elite and that you don’t belong there.
Auctions aren’t just about that.
At Drouot (located at 9 rue Drouot in the 9th arrondissement of Paris), there are auctions from Monday to Friday from 11am to 6pm and even on some Saturdays.
To attend the sales, no need to register or show your white paw, just go and enter. There will simply be a small search of your bag if you have one, as in any public place in Paris.
In the lobby, a screen shows the sales calendar with the corresponding room numbers. Locate what you are interested in and go to the room in question. It’s very well indicated and you can easily move from one room to another.
What can you buy in an auction?
That’s one of the things that surprised me the most: you can buy a bit of everything.
For me the auctions were reserved for sales of prestigious objects. I realized that they were not. In fact, auctions are used a lot in the context of estates where we literally empty the attic of the inhabitants and therefore sell knick-knacks that will go for 10 €.
In the middle of this “vide grenier”, there may be a few nuggets like a fan batch that was eagerly awaited and was the subject of a long battle.
During my 2 hours spent at Drouot, I saw some junk items not go for 10 € in a room. And a mask of the pre-Columbian civilization to leave at 200 000 €.
So it’s quite fun to go from a garage sale atmosphere to a museum one.
Moreover, some rooms are used to exhibit the objects that will be on sale in a few days and one can discover impressive collections.
As a result, the audience is very varied. It’s a curious mix of curious people like me who come to discover. Individuals (often elderly people) who come to treat themselves by buying a few trinkets. Professional antique dealers who try to find good deals to resell them later with a margin. And collectors who come to acquire rare pieces.
How does an auction take place?
Already we can distinguish the “débarras” sales from the most prestigious sales:
- For the most prestigious sales, the lots on sale are perfectly listed, with an estimate of value by the auctioneer, a printed sales catalog and available upstream on the internet.
- For “clearance” sales, the organization is less important and I even saw several times the auctioneer modify lots by adding for example to a lot an object unsold 5 minutes earlier.
Otherwise, the process is similar.
The auctioneer begins by presenting the lot put up for sale. The lot is presented and potential buyers may approach to observe it. The auctioneer then announces the starting price, which is always lower than the estimated range.
The sale begins and you just have to make a gesture to bid. This is undoubtedly the most theatrical moment of the sale, the auctioneer wielding humor and trying to trigger a buying frenzy: “300 € against you sir, don’t let yourself go!”.
Potential buyers can be in the room but also by other means:
- Some are live on the phone with an operator who bids on their behalf
- Others bid by internet, some sales have a webcam that allows to broadcast the action live
- Some finally made a purchase order, authorizing the auctioneer to bid for them until the defined maximum price is reached.
It’s a real show, it’s very surprising to see two buyers confronting each other over the phone. One was in the USA, the other in Australia.
Once a bidder no longer has a competitor, the steward strikes with his famous hammer on the table, the sale is over!
The buyer must pay immediately in cash, check or credit card. He must pay the auction price plus approximately 25% of the purchase price. He then receives a proof of purchase.
The mechanism seems different for the most prestigious sales where I have the impression that the buyers were pre-registered. I didn’t see anyone getting up to go and pay directly for the 200,000 € purchase 🙂
The buyer can say “I keep”, i.e. he gets his purchases back immediately. Otherwise, the lot is stored by Drouot and can be retrieved free of charge until 10 am the next morning. After this time, storage fees will be charged.
I also saw that Drouot was offering packaging and shipping solutions.
strongly encourage you to attend an auction at least once, it is an amazing and entertaining experience.
Be careful not to fall into a shopping frenzy, I think you can get into a frenzy, just like in a casino.
If I wasn’t nomadic and minimalist, I would surely have succumbed by buying a trifle for the adrenaline of bidding and to live the experience to the end.