BUYING AT AUCTION ? TACTICS TO CONSIDER

Buying antiques at auction can be highly productive or downright disastrous depending on a multitude of factors ranging from a failure to carefully examine a piece before bidding , getting caught up in a frenetic bidding war, or just being unprepared to face the auction process. An auction is nothing like a retail store where everything is neatly arranged with legible price tags and the inventory is organized into easily replenished  categories. Nor like an antique shop where the inventory is nicely displayed , well marked , in a low keyed environment , the shopkeeper is knowledgeable and might even be negotiable on price .

By contrast the auction is a high energy, fast paced, process to sell everything at the highest  price in the shortest possible  time frame and it is strictly a caveat emptor situation for the buyer. How to counteract the dynamics of an auction rests with the individual buyer and how they prepare for a tremendously competitive environment.

 

Preparation encompasses a myriad of things you must do. First off determine what you actually need to purchase and rank each in tems of priority and a specific budget for each item and don`t forget to add the buyer`s premium and sales tax  into your calculation. Prepare a  list complete with color specifications, three dimensional measurement limitations of the space the item will occupy , style, type of material , and period. Consider also if you have a vehicle suitable in size to accommodate , for example, a four drawer bureau that you will have to remove from the auction site the day you buy it or within a couple of days afterward.If you have a small car you will wind up paying an independent shipper a substantial delivery price. Also make sure the delivery service will bring the piece up to that second story guest bedroom  at the top of the narrow curving staircase once they arrive or it might be offloaded to your driveway.

 

Previewing an auction is essential and it is done in two steps.Most auctions have on-line websites and produce printed brochures briefly describing each piece and you can determine from these sources what you might have an interest in to warrant going to the auction. Once you have determined your interest level get ready to travel to the auction in time for the preview. Plan on a minimum of two hours to actually examine very carefully each piece you like and also to review the rest of the auction to broaden your horizon for other things. Ready to go? Not unless you have a small high intensity LED flashlight , magnifying glass , a loupe,  a small 12 foot measuring tape (with a stiff tape and large numerals) , digital camera , three by five inch spiral bound notebook and two pencils or ball point pen (s). Lighting at most auction houses and shows is terrible , you will need that flashlight to look at artwork, inside bureaus once you have pulled out the drawers to see if the interior is missing parts. Record in the notebook the item number,a short description of the piece, if the auctioneer lists their estimate of the selling range include that range, notes on condition and where it ranks in your overall priority list of desired items. It helps to also describe where the piece is in the hall so you can find it quickly for re-examination.

 

Previewing the auction is where you must apportion your time predominately to the items you have already identified of being of interest.Focus on them immediately and then look at the rest of the offerings if sufficient time is left. Once you have your notes entered into your notebook sit down somewhere and decide what you have the most interest in and the maximum amount you are willing to pay (including buyer`premium , shipping , estimated cost of repairing or restoration and sales tax) for each item. While at the preview take notice of the people there. Some will be collectors of just one thing ie Civil War artifacts. That is their total focus and they know the prices and values of their interests down to a penny. Should you as a relative newcomer to the auction circuit have the same interest be very cautious of trying to outbid him/her. Better to watch them at several auctions to see how they bid and what they are willing to pay. Then there are the general dealers who are buying inventory for re-sale .Usually they are careful buyers not willing to go beyond a certain dollar amount. Watch for them at the auction .If you can outbid them by one increment you can be reasonably sure you made a good buy . The retail buyer is usually looking for household accouterments ranging from rugs, furniture, artwork, glassware and anything used for decorative purposes. Auctioneers love them because they see an item,decide they want it, and will pay virtually anything to get it.In either of these last two scenarios be wary of being trapped into a bidding war, lose your cool and exceed your predetermed bidding limit , and you will run up your cost dramatically . If you decide to attend the auction try to find a seat directly in front of the auctioneer preferable on an aisle seat. We like to sit in the back row so we can watch who we are bidding against and capture their body language as they bid or kibbutz with their seatmates during the bidding.

 

Another way to buy at auction is not to attend the auction! After doing all of the above examinations and calculations during the preview then leave a bid in the amount you are willing pay. For some this is an efficient use of time and a good way to control expenditures and avoid the hype and possible bidding  frenzy that can occur. Then there is the time factor. For example , at a given auction there may be 150 lots of books ( or jewelry,  coins, dolls, etc.etc. ) that will go up for bid. You will have to sit through the sale of those items  to see the items you are interested in that are  also spread throughout the auction. Is it worth your time to do that? If you enjoy the action of an  auction , the drama, dynamics and social aspect by all means attend it.

 

On- line bidding or telephone bidding are not procedures that we are familiar with.It is becoming more and more popular ; but it is distracting , extends the time of the bid and agitates the audience who have chosen to attend the event. Auctioneers should seek a better way to accommodate these intrusive methods.

 

 

 

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CARE AND STORAGE OF ANTIQUE FURNITURE

Care of any piece of wood furniture,  whether new or old,  is relatively simple. If in actual use in your home,  the surface should be protected with a good coating of paste wax and buffed out to a soft sheen. If the piece is soiled,  wipe it down with paint thinner using a clean white cloth (white so you can see how much dirt is being removed). Then apply one or two thin coats of wax. Do not use lemon oil , mineral oil , spray – on polishes or tinted paste waxes. The oils will only collect dust and dirt over time negating your cleaning job. Spray- on polishes and some tinted waxes will actually  erode the original shellac , varnish , or lacquer  finish on the furniture after repeated use . Furniture that has an oil finish, such as tung oil or boiled linseed oil,  should be wiped down with paint thinner until clean and a new thin coating of oil applied. No paste wax should be used on pieces that have an oil finish.

Painted furniture can be rejuvenated by lightly sanding the piece with 0000 sandpaper and then wiping down with paint thinner followed up with an application of paste wax. Be cautious in making this decision  particuarly with a very old piece where the original  crusty painted surface is prized by many owners.

Hardware can be protected in several ways depending on the metal used. Establish what type of metal it is by simply touching it with a magnet. If steel , the magnet will stick to it. If brass or copper, the magnet will not stick. Sometimes the back plate of a pull will be brass and the bail will be steel. Some pulls are pot metal and may or may not stick to a magnet. Scratching the back surface with a knife will show a silvery mark indicating pot metal.

The best way to polish brass or copper hardware is to remove it from the piece. Then a power buffing machine can be used. Care should be taken that the wire wheel is designed for use on soft metals. Then a follow- up polish with a cloth wheel imparts a soft glow. If no machine is available,  cleaning and polishing can be done by hand. If tarnish is very heavy, try using Tinner`s Acid  to dissolve the tarnish. Use rubber gloves and apply the acid with a small piece of 0000 steel wool. When the acid cleans the piece,  rinse it under running water. The item will have a definite red tinge to it which is normal. Do not soak the pulls in acid for any length of time as  this can cause serious damage . Once the heavy tarnish is gone,  apply a quality brass cleaner with a small piece of 0000 steel wool and polish it out to a bright soft appearance.

Now you can spray the polished pieces with a clear coating of automotive lacquer. This will eliminate the need for regular polishing for months if not years.

Steel hardware can be cleaned on a buffing wheel or by hand. Sometimes this type of hardware has been coated with a brass- colored plating process to imitate real brass. If the coating is in good shape,  just clean the items with paint thinner and coat with the spray lacquer and re – install. Pot metal pieces should be handled in the same fashion. A buffing wire wheel will remove the brass coating . Pot metal pieces should be cleaned by hand. If steel and pot metal items are unsightly after cleaning,  consider painting them. Paint in aerosol cans comes in a variety of colors and can be used to enhance  the appearance of the hardware. The paint dries quickly and does not need the clear lacquer spray- on process described previously.

Now that the piece is nicely polished and the hardware glistens,  you can position it in your home. Putting it in direct sunlight from a nearby window will , over time,  destroy the exposed finish and bleach the wood necessitating a complete refinishing job. Keep the piece away from a working fireplace or wood stove. Heat will blister and destroy the finish.

Storing furniture all too often means relegating it to a basement, attic , garage or to a rented off- site storage unit. If the basement is relatively damp,  put the item in the attic or a garage with an old sheet over it and a heavy sheet of plastic under it. Raise it up off the plastic if you can. If you think your basement is dry,  take a sheet of plastic about four feet square and leave it on your dry basement floor for a week. Then pick it up and see the accumulation of water on it and the very damp wet spot on the floor. That is moisture seeping up from the ground , through the cement , and onto your furniture. Remember most furniture has no protective finish on the underneath and  interior wood surfaces so moisture from the floor goes right up into it causing mildew or warpage and will destroy the glue that holds veneer in place.

If a storage unit is to be used, be wary of the basic unheated garage- type units with cement floors. Pay the extra money and go to a place that is climate- controlled and  get onto an upper floor. Never store furniture , rugs , clothing etc in the garage- type unit.

 

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OUR WEBSITE

The inventory we maintain is shown on our website www.damarine antiques.com where you can review the items we offer for sale through the internet , our shop in Damariscotta and at our booth space in Cabot Mill Antiques, a group shop in Brunswick, ME.

Also shown are the custom farm tables we produce , examples of the restoration work we do on our inventory items and contract repair/refinishing projects for clients.

We encourage clients who have summer homes in the area to avail themselves of our restoration capabilities during the Winter months. Furniture items in need of refurbishing can be left with us in the Fall . When work is completed we can arrange with their caretaker to have the finished piece delivered to their home.  E-mail status reports and photographs of the work in progress are sent to the client and final photographs when the job is finished. Under certain circumstances ( space availability ) we can store the items until Spring when the owner returns to Maine. For quick access to our website click on the link listed on the right of the page.

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BUYING A BUREAU ? WHAT YOU SHOULD LOOK FOR!

Slide each drawer out and in. Do they slide easily and in a  straight line backwards and forwards ? If not the drawer bottom runners and the drawer support boards may be extensively worn. If the drawer wiggles from side to side in its cavity chances are the drawer guides are loose or missing entirely.

Remove all the drawers and check to see if any of the boards that the drawers slide on are loose or missing. Check the surfaces of each board for grooves cut into it from the drawer bottom. A visual inspection will  show whether the drawer guides are missing or loose.

With the drawers out turn the bureau over and examine the legs and the glue blocks that reinforce them. Check the bottoms of the drawer support boards to see if all glue blocks are in place and tightly glued.

Are drawer bottoms split , have they shrunk and pulled away from the groove on the base of the drawer front leaving a gap along the front where the drawer bottoms are supposed to be slid into ? Examine the interior of the drawer front where the pulls are located . Are the pulls original to the piece ? A single center hole for each pull , which has been threaded to accommodate a wooden pull with a wood screw end is common on early pieces.  The holes for these are 3/8″ in diameter . Pieces with  original wood or brass pulls will have a single hole drilled through for each pull and usually measure 3/16 ” in diameter. If a 3/8 ” hole is present  but unused and bracketed by two smaller holes on either side , you can be sure that the pulls are replacements.

Did the bureau have a backsplash that is now missing ? Check the back of the bureau and see if there is a groove running the width of the bureau  where the backsplash might have fit in and been secured by three or four screws. The holes will be visible right along the edge of the top board of the bureau. Some backsplashes rested  on top of the main board with an extension that ran down the back edge. Again , the screw holes will be evident and the top board of the bureau might show dark markings where the backsplash rested and protected the finish from sunlight and wear.

Measure the vertical height of each drawer front  on both left and right sides. Measure the height at the back of each drawer. They should be identical to the front. If not the drawer bottom runners should be repaired to even them off front to back. Are the four drawer joints glued tightly together ? Any movement or racking action visible when the drawer is handled ?

Now check the overall appearance of the exterior of the bureau. Any trim or molding strips missing ? Are pulls all there and are they consistent with the age of the piece ? What about the color and finish ? Has it been painted ? How many times and what colors ? Is the paint over the original shellac , laquer or varnish finish ? Paint is designed to penetrate into the pores and grain of the wood. If used on raw wood it is impossible to get it all out. A residue will remain no matter how strong the stripper is  and the effort used to remove it. If you buy a painted piece with the intent of restoring it to its original color , be forewarned !

Most of the above are examples of what time , use , environmental conditions and neglect can do to a bureau. A full and careful examination to determine the overall  condition of the bureau  should be a significant factor in your decision to purchase the piece and what you are willing to pay for it.

Another subject that bears careful analysis is the condition of the finish. Are there  black or white rings where plants have been placed on the piece ? Marks from beverage containers? Cigarette burns ? Deep scratches or dents in  the wood. Split boards ? The aforementioned are difficult to repair and some not worth the effort.

All of these factors are applicable to any antique bureau whether it be a three over four drawer mahogany piece from 1810 or a simple four drawer pumpkin pine country piece from 1890. If you are purchasing a bureau it should perform as it was designed to do and have a finish and appearance that is durable , attractive to the eye and feel like butter under your hand with a deep , clear , top coat that highlights the wood grain in a soft satin glow.

Every bureau in our inventory is completely restored mechanically and refinished. We have templates of backsplashes from the 19th century in a variety of designs that we can duplicate in walnut , pine , mahogany and bird`s eye maple. Check our website to see the end results of our work.

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SAVE THOSE PIECES !

Whenever a piece of furniture is damaged save the broken pieces. Typically fancy moldings , pieces of veneer  , chair rungs , spindles , knobs and pulls are broken off during use or while being moved to a new location. Save all the pieces you can and give them to the furniture restorer. Often , thanks to his skills , the pieces can be used in the restoration process. If fancy trim is broken off make every effort to save it. Many of the old molding and trim designs are no longer available from companies selling restoration supplies.

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Pemaquid Peninsula Perambulations

Midcoast Maine ranks as an area replete with historic sites , astounding ocean and river vistas , rolling lush farmlands , contemporary services for lodging and dining ,  and cultural activities for every taste and interest. The Pemaquid Peninsula thrusts into the North Atlantic Ocean like a spear pointing at Great Britain off to the East. The most direct access to the peninsula is from downtown Damariscotta south on U.S. Route 129/130.

Take 129 to 130 directly to the Pemaquid Point Lighthouse  and museum operated by the town of Bristol . Unmatched views of the ocean on nice days and dramatic vistas of nature`s fury during heavy storms  as wind , towering breakers and either rain or snow or both rip at the shore.

Take Huddle Road off 130 to Colonial Pemaquid State Park where the restoration of a tower of Fort William Henry rests on the original foundation built in 1692. An archeological dig has unearthed the foundations of the homes built on the site  and there is a museum housing artifacts from the area. An ancient cemetery  on the grounds overlooks  gorgeous Pemaquid Harbor, an active fishing port. Seasonal fishermen from England had temporary dwellings on the the harbor shore  dating back to 1610 , several years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth , MA.

If you take route 129 where it slips off to the right from 130 you wind up in Christmas Cove , a complex of beautiful homes , marinas ,  deep pine woods , and the rocky coast. Another very active fishing harbor home to many fishermen who tie their ships up to the piers and moorings near the “Gut ” spanned by the swing bridge and clearly visible from the road.

If examples of old houses are of interest to you the routes south from Damariscotta will give you a panorama of homes dating from the mid 1800`s through the grand summer cottages of those  from Maryland , Virginia, Pennsylvania , New York and Connecticut who populated the area in the late 1890`s.

Two miles from downtown Damariscotta heading south towards Pemaquid Point is our shop on the right hand side of the road . DAMARINE ANTIQUES is in our barn attached to our home  , the Benjamin Day House built in 1754. It is one of the three oldest homes in town all having been built by Nathaniel Chapman , a housewright , originally from Ipswich , MA. We are open year round from 10.00 A.M. – 5:00 P.M. daily. A telephone call ahead is advised during Winter months.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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ABOUT US

A couple`s  search for authentic antiques  for their home evolved into a full time business in 1987 with  the opening of of our first shop on ” Antiques Alley ” U.S. Route 7  in Ridgefield , CT in the heart of Fairfield County.

In the summer of 2001 we realized a lifetime dream of moving to Maine. It took a year of searching to locate a site where living quarters , a workshop , and  a large display area were all confined in one complex.

We found a classic cape , built in 1754 by Nathaniel Chapman of Ipswich , MA for Benjamin Day ( a Revolutionary War veteran ) in Damariscotta, ME. It comprises ten rooms , a spacious workshop, and an attached barn and garden room for display of antiques. An integral part of the property for our customers enjoyment is the extensive gardens surrounding the house and barn. The house is one of the three oldest  in town , all built by housewright Nathaniel Chapman.

The home was built on the banks of the Damariscotta River approximately two miles south of downtown Damariscotta on U.S, Route 129/130 which is the principal road down the center of the Pemaquid Peninsula and leads eventually to the Pemaquid Lighthouse and museum at Pemaquid Point. Also to Colonial Pemaquid State Park that has a rebuilt stone tower of Fort William Henry the original fort constructed in 1692. It is situated on the shores of Pemaquid Harbor and guarded the colonial village which is now an archaeological site , an old cemetery and a museum all overlooking one of the prettiest harbors in the area.

The name of our shop , DAMARINE ANTIQUES , is unique. The town`s name , Damariscotta , intrigued us as to its origin – perhaps a Native American name. A search of the state archives in Augusta revealed that when the town of Damariscotta was formed and  incorporated in 1847  it included a portion of Bristol that was named for Damarine a Native American Sachem from the  Sagadahoc tribe.

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