Interested in buying an item at auction but aren’t sure if it is authentic? Take these steps to do your due diligence as a buyer.
In order to avoid buying a fake at auction, you, as a savvy buyer will do your homework. If you are new to an area of collecting but want to bid at an item at auction, ask yourself, and the auction house some questions.
- Does the auction estimate look too good to be true?
This could be an effort to increase bidding, or an indication that the item is not authentic.
- Does the auction house selling the item not typically sell that type of asset?
Maybe the auction house got a lucky consignment; or, maybe the consignor was untruthful and found an unlucky, unaware auctioneer.
- Does the stated age of the item match the asset’s make up and condition?
- Do the markings match other known sales of this asset type?
- Is there a specialist, outside of the auction house selling the item, that you could contact for their opinion?
Working with the Auction House
- You should inspect any item you would like to purchase. If that isn’t possible, you can ask the auction house for condition reports and photographs.
- Ask about the auction houses return policy if you later discover that the item you purchase is not authentic.
- If not stated in the catalog description, ask about the item’s history and provenance.
National Auctioneers Association auction professionals have a code of ethics, but that doesn’t mean we are perfect. Some assets may slip through the cracks with no malicious intent. As generalists, some auctioneers may not know the item they are selling is not authentic. For this reason, auctioneers sell property as-is, where-is, which means it is up to the buyer to do their own investigation before purchasing.
Here is a short list of items to research before buying at auction to understand the differences between real and fake:
- Entertainment and celebrity memorabilia including: stage-worn clothing; stage-used instruments; props; personal clothing and ephemera; concert and movie posters;
- Political and NASA memorabilia
- Sports memorabilia
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Megan Mahn Miller, MPPA, owner of Mahn Miller Collective, Inc., contributed to this article.