Teak Week: How to Score at Auction

March 6th, 2009

We’re really excited to have a guest post by Chris from Toronto-based styleNorth! We’re a bit green behind the ears when it comes to live (as opposed to online/ebay) auctions so he’s been nice enough to put together some information to help us all become a little more savvy. Thanks Chris!

Vintage shops are a great source for quality teak furniture but you can also score amazing pieces at auction. This week provides a prime example: Ritchies (380 King St. E. in Toronto) is holding its spring Select Sale March 10 – 12 with some top notch teak up for grabs at potentially killer prices.


The shot above is from Ritchies’ window featuring one of two Danish Moderne-style coffee tables (estimate $300 – $400 for the set) and a Jens H. Quistgaard, teak covered Congo Ice Bucket (estimate $125 – $175), just like John and Juli’s. Of course either piece could sell for far less than the low estimate, or for far more, that’s the crazy fun of auctions, you just never know which way it will go.

Auctions can be intimidating, especially if you’ve never been to one before. But make no mistake, you can land some incredible deals not to mention enjoy an entertaining evening or afternoon.

The merchandise is posted online in advance to give you an idea of what’s up for grabs but it’s crucial to attend the preview, which provides the opportunity to really look over the merchandise, checking for damage, repairs, and general condition. If you’re interested in a set of dining chairs, for instance, sit in each one, make sure they’re not wobbly or creaky. Previews of next week’s Ritchies sale are on this weekend (Sat – Mon 12 – 5 pm).


In the montage above, the five-piece Danish dining set has an estimate of $500 – $700 and the extra-long, orange chenille sofa and chair set is estimated to fetch between $300 – $500. The two sets of Orla Molgaad-Nilson and Peter Hvidt dining chairs–one with upholstered seats, the other with rush seats–carry estimates of $500 – $700. My guess is they’ll sell for less.


My next tip is to gauge where in the sale your item will fall. This week’s Ritchies auction is divided over three nights with most of the teak furnishings going under the hammer on Wednesday. Lot numbers for the teak are in the low 2100s which means they’ll come up for bidding around 8 pm or shortly after. Auctioneers typically move 80 – 100 items per hour and since the sale starts at 7 at lot number 2000, showing up at 8 for the teak is a safe bet. Otherwise, you’ll have to sit through the sale of all the carpets, which could be instructive or kind of boring depending on your interest.

On the day of the sale you’ll be required to register and be given a “paddle”, usually just a card with a number on it. When the time comes to bid, just hold up your card to signal to the auctioneer that you’ll meet the currently called price. When your item first comes on the block don’t jump right in at the initial bid offering–usually, if no one takes the bait the auctioneer will roll back the price and start at a lower entry point.


The fantastic set of Scandinavian Moderne teak and ebonized laminate nesting tables, above, is estimated to sell for $200 – $300.

A word about dealers: a personal buyer can almost always win when bidding against a dealer because a dealer has to score the item at a price low enough to double or even triple when he or she resells it in their shop. So don’t be intimidated.

ALWAYS set a bid ceiling for yourself, that is, the highest price you’d be prepared to pay for something. And stick to it! Also factor in the buyer’s premium when deciding how high to fly. Ritchies adds a 20 per cent buyer’s premium, plus taxes, so you’ll have to tack another 33 per cent onto the hammer price.

And always have a second tier of items you’d consider bidding on if they don’t draw any action; sometimes the piece you want goes to a higher bidder but something you were moderately interested in goes for a song. It pays to cover your bases.


Remember, there will always be another auction; if something you covet gets away, it just means there’s something even better waiting for you around the next corner.

Chris Jones is the founder of styleNorth.ca, one of Canada’s most popular decorating blogs. Chris has been winning and losing at auctions for the past five years.

First & Last photos: Chris Jones
Other photos: Ritchies Auctions

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