One of Antiques Roadshow's most beloved appraisers, Peter Loughrey, makes modern art, design, and furniture available to anyone who comes to his auction house, Los Angeles Modern Auctions, with a paddle and a credit card. Here are his inside tips on how to get started as a collector, one auction at a time.
Do your homework: "You want to feel confident that you've fully investigated the item you're interested in. Most auctions will have advance listings, both in catalogues and online. You should investigate every possible way to buy something. Look at lots of auctions. Ask questions. Find other collectors."
Check the condition: "Almost every kind of antique or work of art can be compared to others like it by condition. Some things you might look at and on the surface think, 'Wow, this is really kind of tattered, there's a lot of chips or nicks in it.' But compare it to other known examples. Bad condition isn't something that should necessarily scare off a bidder. There are some things that are in rough shape that sell for a tremendous amount of money."
John Lennon's famous Rolls-Royce—complete with a psychedelic paint job—was auctioned for $2.299 million in 1985.
Get to know your auctioneer: "You're looking for someone who has a good reputation and is very trustworthy. Find out whether or not the auctioneer owns the items he's selling. There's a conflict of interest when the auctioneer owns too many pieces in an auction. He might unnaturally hold up the price."
Register in advance: "If it's a popular auction, there's going to be a lot of people registering the day of. You might want to get a little attention ahead of time, either the day before or a few days before. You can find out a lot more about the piece you're bidding on, and can ask a lot of questions at the registration desk."
The paddle is your friend: "Most auction companies will insist that you raise your paddle to bid. You don't have to worry about scratching your ear and then end up buying a Warhol painting for a million dollars. And it gives you some sort of anonymity."
Ellen DeGeneres sold a lock of Justin Bieber's hair for $40,668 with proceeds donated to animal-rescue group the Gentle Barn.
Don't buy blindly: "A rookie mistake is when you're sitting in the auction, waiting for your lot to come up, and you see another lot selling really inexpensively and you think to yourself, 'Gosh, that's selling really low, I wonder why no one is bidding on that.' You shoot your hand up and buy the piece thinking it's a great deal, only to discover later that it's in poor condition. It's a little dangerous to bid on something on the spur of the moment."
A little aggression never hurt anyone: "If you sense that a person is a timid bidder, sometimes bidding aggressively can work to your advantage. You can stand up and yell out your bid or, as soon as they make up their mind to go with another bid, you immediately, forcefully yell out your next bid. You're sending a message to them that you're not slowing down; you're ready to go. That can turn a timid bidder off."
Stick to your bid (most of the time): "I always tell people to know how exactly how much they can bid and then stick to that number. However, it's very difficult to do that. There have been many times I've bid on objects where I've sworn to my wife I'm not going to go over this amount and then I've gone three times higher than that amount to get the piece. But months later, years later, I've thought to myself, 'I'm so glad I've got that piece.'"
A collection of Mahatma Gandhi's personal items sold for $1.8 million in 2009.
Buy who you love: "One of the great things about contemporary artists is that it's easy to own one of their pieces even if you don't have a lot of money, because they've put their names on highly produced multiples. If you only have $500 you can own a Jeff Koons piece. If you have a million dollars you can afford a Jeff Koons piece. There's something for everyone at every price level, and that's kind of the genius of the contemporary art world."
Bid from afar: "A good auctioneer should be able to execute an absentee bid for you. But a lot of the smaller auction companies are much more likely to take advantage of an absentee bidder. If you can't be there in person, you should find someone who is going to be in the room—an expert, a dealer, a collector—to bid for you. A lot of people won't charge you anything, and some people will charge a small percentage, 1 or 2%."
One of Andy Warhol's iconic silk-screen portraits of Marilyn Monroe sold for $28 million in 2007. One of Elizabeth Taylor sold for $10 million the same year.
Skip online bidding: "Online bidding has a lot of glitches and sometimes you'll lose a piece because of it."
Be prepared to pay up front: "When the auctioneer bangs the gavel and says 'Sold,' the title has been legally transferred to the new owner. Some will require a deposit. Some auction companies will take credit cards, some won't. And some auction companies will give a discount if they pay by the same day or by end of the first week."
Enjoy the ride: "My earliest memory is sitting on my father's lap when I was 5 years old and he would give me a nudge and I would raise the paddle. I've been literally bidding on things my entire life. Even if I'm bidding on something inexpensive at a small auction, I still get kind of a fit of adrenaline, and my heart is pumps; there is this kind of very strong high that you feel."
The rare Double Eagle coin, first minted in 1933, sold for $7.6 million in 2002. Its face value: $20.