With the little I know about them, I thought auctions were only for the rich and old.
Well, I’ve become old-enough, never mind rich-enough, to finally enjoy auctions myself, even if only as someone who appreciates art and the stories behind them, and the provenance of art pieces—such things other than the art itself on which auctions stake their reputation and buyers rely on for protection.
Auctions, I’ve only recently realized, are not just for buyers or sellers, but also for people like my husband and me, made curious enough to leave the comforts of home, a considered act in itself, to view art pieces otherwise not publicly seen, coming as they do from private collectors or ancestral homes, where they have been kept for generations.
It helps that our favorite auction organizer holds his events in our neighborhood, and we can happily just walk over.
Certainly, anyone who’s gotten on in years, and not necessarily rich, might have a thing or two of value to sell at an auction, instead of passing it on to heirs who may not appreciate it as much. And, before we do, we mustn’t forget ourselves—we may also want to keep some of the proceeds to splurge on a bucket list.
But sooner than later, treasures, whether inherited or acquired, have to be passed on, preferably in currencies easier to divide. Indeed, children and grandchildren prefer cash to high-maintenance art or old-fashioned jewelry.
Such was the case with cousin Pit’s family, who had been in possession of a good-sized Hidalgo portrait of a sweet young girl called “Inocencia” ever since she could remember. It had hung in their first Legarda home in R. Hidalgo, and rehang in the house the moved to, in the vicinity of Malacañang.
That second home itself has been put on the market, as well as everything in it that couldn’t be easily divided among the heirs. In their collection, the portrait in oil by Resurrección Hidalgo has been easily their pièce de résistance, and the family has agreed it should be the first one sold.
Pit, as the family member in charge, is confident she has chosen, with the guidance of her daughter, the right auction organizer; she thinks him simpatico, which she attributed to his being Visayan, and patient with first-timers to have bothered to explain to her the whole auction business.
Pit felt even more comfortable when he began to call her Tita. Their painting will be auctioned later in the year; it may be viewed before it gets sold.
Meantime, Pit is learning a lot more about auctions, which will come in handy in the future. After all, her family has more art to unload.
Selling at an auction is done almost as a favor both for buyer and seller. For one thing, it is devoid of any sense of desperation, which immediately brings the price down. It is sold openly and therefore the proper taxes are paid.
The process also requires some research and due diligence—consultations with experts, as my cousin has learned, if one would like to gain some respectable knowledge not just about the art piece itself but its fair price.
The best and final price, may, indeed, surprise one, and that’s the thrill at every auction. Bids are usually started temptingly low, soaring in the course of the bidding, to sometimes unimagined or unexpected highs, usually depending on the skill of the auctioneer, an absolute pro who whips up more excitement to push the bids.
Indeed, auctions are turning out to be more fun and more rewarding than I’ve ever imagined. I wouldn’t want to pass up an auction thrill, which is akin to gambling without any risk of losing.
I talked to someone who just sold her unusual Adam and Eve figurines, made of ivory and encased in glass, the day after the actual auction. She believed she might have gotten a higher price had the auctioneer said more about its background.
I myself think it didn’t sell better because Adam and Eves are not associated with any kind of devotion, unlike other saints and especially the Virgin Mary. I asked if she was sorry she had sold it at the auction. She glared at me incredulously, and said, “Are you kidding? I’m very happy!”
Auctions, Philippine-style, are the newest social game in town. Guests are pampered not just at auctions but also on preview nights, at least the ones I’ve gone to. Wine and delicate canapés were never far away when you wanted them, and a buffet spread good enough for a sumptuous dinner was offered.
In a smaller way, our own Winner Foundation Inc., as protectors of the environment, raise funds by holding a yearly auction close to Christmastime, in which we receive donations in cash and/or in kind from senior friends downsizing their empty nests and who want to dispose of excess home decorations, simple jewelry and smaller works of art by famous painters and sculptors.
In our case, befitting the season, and just to be different, we sell Christmas decorations and fully decorated Christmas trees.
Once, two people bid for the same tree, and, in order to make both happy, a second tree was created. We, too, try to pamper our guests, mostly very good friends, and, likewise, serve an appropriate cocktail and feast.
On the way out, on the stormy preview night we attended, while waiting for our cars, a young couple we just met enthusiastically shared their experiences. Obviously veterans of auctions, they were convinced auctions are a win-win situation.
The wife told me before running off to their car under a huge umbrella held by their driver, “I don’t know anyone who was ever sorry for having sold or bought at an auction. Regrets, usually, come from those who, for some reason, held back with their bids, and lost.”