When I got started and probably up to some 10 years ago, purchasing coins at public auction required that the bidder attend the sale, appoint an agent to represent him or submit a written bid sheet to arrive prior to the sale. Some were able to call in their bids prior to the sale, but the selling of the coins was mostly to a live audience who bid on the lots as they crossed the block.
In the early days, prior to the turn of this century, only a few auction houses had direct phone service to the sales room, so personal or represented attendance was important.
Of course, within the past few years, the Internet has increased the bidding audience with the ability to bid at a sale as if you were there. Direct phone service is available to those who arrange to be called prior to certain lots being offered and sold. These additions have made the sales more active but it seems to me they lack the fun of just being there!
I want to stress the importance of being at the auction sessions, which will have the coins you are interested in. I want to relate what I witnessed in years of being in front of the room, watching and conducting the sale and observing the bidders in attendance as lots were offered, and eventually "hammered down!"
Just before the sale started, collectors, dealers and observers would crowd into the auction room, take their seats, and chat with friends and attendees about what was to be offered that session. Excitement would be evident in the room, which resulted in numismatics being discussed, and knowledge being exchanged. Attendees usually looked about the room to see if some specialist was there to possibly out bid them. Tension would grow as the auctioneer welcomed the audience to the sale, summarized the bidding procedures and then called out the first lot for that session. The chatting would stop and all eyes were on catalogs or the auctioneer, as the advances after the opening bid were announced. Individuals competed with each other, mail bids were exercised by the auctioneer’s staff, and if phone bids were available or internet bids received the sale of each lot was observed, recorded and finally "knocked down" to the highest bidder.
Determined bidders showed their excitement by raising their hands or indicating their bid to the Auctioneer. Each lot was a competitive display and the methods of bidding were something to see. The auctioneer had to be able to catch the many bids, whether it was a hand up, a pencil wave, a wink, a blink, or even calling out. Many hoped to conceal their bids from competitors. Sometimes records were set and successful bidders were sometimes applauded for acquiring some of the outstanding lots. As an auctioneer, it was great to face the audience and see their excitement and anticipation. And the bidders in the room saw of the action, heard the chant of the auctioneer, and felt they were part of the history of that sale.
To those who attended (and to those who attend now) it was like attending a theatrical show — seeing and hearing firsthand the action in the room, and being there as it happens. It shows the exceptional interest in the items being sold, and sometimes the bidding gets so exciting that participants vocally challenge the hammer price when they are not deemed the winning bidder. Sometimes a lot is reopened if this happens, and there is additional excitement in the room.
Attending a public auction can be fun — to watch, learn and bid. It is also always a good time just being there among other buyers and observers. It makes acquiring the pieces you want even more exciting.
Our next sale is coming up in August in Philadelphia as part of the ANA’s World’s Fair of Money, a convention you may be attending. I invite you to gain additional numismatic experience and attend one or more sessions to experience this facet of collecting. It will be fun just to attend!
Of course, if you cannot make it, then I suggest you review the catalogs or our Internet listings, send in your mail, fax or on-line bids early, arrange with the office to bid "live" on the Internet, or have a member of the Stack’s Bowers staff contact you for a phone bid.
Whichever way you chose, be a part of this incredible event and be part of history as it occurs. We look forward to “seeing you at the sale!”
Good luck to all,
Harvey G. Stack