How To Buy At Maritime Auctions – Some Tips

Auctions are a popular topic: from online services like eBay, to in-person establishments such as Christie’s, millions of dollars are spent per year on purchases made at auctions. Auctions can be general– meaning that all types of items are bought and sold at a particular one- as well as themed. Themed auctions center on specific types of items, such as cars, coins, or the particular estates or sales originating from an individual or group.

In our next article series, we will focus on a specific type of auction: the maritime auction. In addition to discussing the basics of this type, we will introduce tips on bidding, as well as mistakes to avoid.

ship lightAntique Ship’s Light

Before we get into the detailed tips on how you should buy items at a maritime auction, let us first take a look at the different auction houses that sell maritime pieces.

If you search for it online, you will see that there are major maritime auction houses in the United States and the United Kingdom that offer antique flags, scuba diving helmets and other pieces used at sea at least 50 years or so before. Many of them also sell maritime art.

The major maritime auction houses include Bonhams, Charles Miller, among others. How do you buy at these auction houses? Well, the first thing you need to do is to look at the items in their lot. Is there something that you want to have? Remember that things bought at auction cost you money. You don’t want to regret your decision bidding for things in the heat of the moment and not truly asking yourself BEFORE the bidding if you want the item in question.
If you do find something that you absolutely want, do more research on it. Ask about its history and its value in the maritime industry. Some auction houses do allow you to inspect the item before the bidding starts. You should take advantage of this fact by paying these houses a visit. If you’re not able to make personal visit, ask for more pictures on top of the ones you see on the website. One good place to begin researching those potential purchases is the National Maritime Historical Society website.

Once bidding starts, go ahead and place your bid. Please take note, the price that closes at the banging of the gavel is just the price of the item. Auction houses typically charge commissions of 10% to 15%, sometimes more. Also, in the case of online auctions, they charge you for using their website on top of the commission. You can avoid paying this charge by being there when the auction happens, and if you can’t make it, by phoning in your bids.  If you want to buy at the lowest possible bid, you could also ask the auction house to bid on your behalf.

When you win the bid, pay as soon as you can. Pay within five days because after that, you will often be charged a storage fee by some houses.

What items can you buy at a maritime auction house? All sorts of items. While maritime art,  diving masks, flags, and ship models are common, there are other items that you can get at auction: Naval and Nelson memorabilia, rowing-related objects, and nautical instruments, among others. You can also bid on mariner’s craftwork, like dioramas.

People have different reasons for buying a specific item at auction. Some do it for sentimental reasons, while others do it to gain a trophy prize. Whatever reason for choosing a particular maritime item for bidding, you are not excluded from determining whether or not that item is really what your heart desires. It also does not exempt you from doing due diligence on the item in question.

If you want to sell your item to an auction house, you can do so. But prepared though because the price that you want may not be the price that the item will be sold for. It all depends on the valuation done by the auction house. Aside from selling directly to the auction house, you could also put your item on consignment, which means that it will stay with the auction house until someone bids on it and wins it.

Aside from the official valuation, demand for your item will also determine its closing price. Typically, you will know what the final price is within two hours before the auction closes, although this can vary.


Thank you for reading Part One in our series on Maritime Auctions; Part Two can be read at this link