Auctioneers reveal the secrets to sales success

Updated 2018-08-07 14:25:06

A pair of rose butterfly double-gourd vases sold at Christie's for .3 million. [Photo/China Daily]

Life as an auctioneer is like being a ringmaster in a circus, according to Colin Sheaf, Bonhams' head of Asia.

"You're in the center of a big public event. I just focus on the nice and friendly atmosphere, and we have a few special objects placed around the auctioneer's rostrum," he said.

"You want to be nervous. If you are too relaxed, you lose your edge, you lose your sharpness. An hour before the auction, I sit somewhere quiet, have a coffee and get myself ready for it and quite often I will walk around the sale room and say hello to friends and get a feeling for the atmosphere."

Kate Hunt, Christie's Chinese ceramics and works of art specialist, said highlights for her include the sale of two porcelain seals dating to the Republican period of China (1912-49).

"As soon as the vendor opened the box with the seals, I just thought they were of amazing quality. These two little seals were painted by one of the most famous Chinese artists of the time, He Xuren. They sold for nearly five times the estimate. So that was a big highlight for me."

Henry Howard-Sneyd, Sotheby's chairman of Asian Art, Europe and the Americas, knows what makes a good auctioneer.

"Being a good auctioneer is not just about the maths and numbers. Being a good auctioneer is also about empathy, because you have to empathize with bidders and make them feel that you are on their side.

"It's not just about feeling what someone else is doing. In order to influence their decisions, you have to try to affect what they're doing, you can't force them, you have to encourage them.

"Sometimes I get off the rostrum and think I just did my bit, but other times I know I have made a difference. I know that person would not have bid one more time unless I did the right things to encourage them to do so."

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