Things to consider when buying & selling an instrument at auction

To buy or not to buy at auction? That is a question many musicians face, especially when it comes to fine stringed instruments and bows. Tim Ingles, director and co-founder of Ingles & Hayday, provides some of the steps musicians need to follow before purchasing or selling an instrument at auction.

Buying an instrument at auction

One obvious advantage of purchasing an instrument at auction is that there is a wide range of choice available and you generally pay less than you would privately. There are however a few vitally important things to you simply must do if you decide to buy at auction.

1. Authenticate the instrument you want

Key to buying at auction is ensuring the instrument’s authenticity and condition. The auction catalogue is a useful guide, but it is best to find a trustworthy and reputable expert to investigate the instrument you are interested in purchasing in more detail. They will have far more in-depth knowledge than a salesperson and are best placed to help you decide whether you should bid or not.

2. Important questions to ask

Find out why the instrument has been described in the way that it has. Also, how was the estimate set and what similar instruments have been sold recently?

3. Play the instrument at least once

It may sound obvious, but it is vital to ensure that you play the instrument before you decide to bid for it. If you are serious about potentially purchasing it, then you should also have an opportunity to borrow the instrument for a few days too. Having an instrument for a few days will allow you to establish an emotional connection with the instrument and get a feel for it.

4. Request a condition report

Inevitably a 200-year violin being sold at auction will have cracks. It is therefore important to request a condition report and find out whether any damage has been repaired or it may well require further attention in the future.

5. Seek a second opinion and know the returns policy inside out

Reputable auction houses have no problem with you seeking a second opinion on an instrument’s condition and authenticity. It is also good to know what their returns policy is in advance and how things may be handled, should any issues arise.

Selling an instrument at auction

1. Find an expert you can trust

Just as when you’re buying instrument, it is very important to find a trustworthy expert that is either working as an individual or at a reputable business. There are a number of ways to find experts, whether it’s via professional recommendations or word of mouth.

2. Make an appointment

The next step to take is to make an appoint with the expert to show them the instrument you’d like to sell.

3. Gather as much evidence about the instrument as possible

Before you go along to your appointment, gather together as much evidence on the instrument as possible, which helps to prove its authenticity and origin. This will help the expert provide you with an approximate valuation of what the instrument or bow is likely to sell for at auction.

4. Ask to see a previous auction

Always ask to see a previous auction catalogue. This will show you how instruments are presented and also reveals how good the photography is. It is then worth asking about the advantages and disadvantages of selling at auction or private sale, so you can be fully armed with all the information you need on how to sell your instrument or bow.

Musicians have traditionally been cautious of dealers and the auction process. I hope that by applying these basic principles when buying and selling at auction, that you find it both interesting and rewarding.