How to buy art & collectibles at auction

A foolproof guide for what to do before the auction

Ethereal Summit Auction 2018


There is a lot to consider when choosing to buy art and collectibles at an auction. While it can be one of the best ways to get your hands on the best deals for the best pieces circulating the market, it can be a stressful process. Auction houses hold some of the best items on the market, but many people opt to buy from galleries and dealers because it seems easier. Auctions houses historically have a surplus of supply (all of those great works) and are always looking for more buyers. Taking a little time to understand auctions can give you access to the best the market has to offer.

Whether you’re planning to invest in a Kaws toy or on a Banksy multiple, we want to help you make the best decision. Read through our Auction Buyer’s Guide and head into your next auction with more knowledge, confidence and peace of mind.

Here are four key things to consider when preparing to buy art and collectibles at auction:

  • Provenance research
  • The item’s market
  • Setting a price limit
  • Factoring in secondary costs

Below, we’ve outlined each consideration.

1. Provenance research

Provenance is the most important driver of an items value. As a pervious Codex article points out, it directly affects the three main types of disputes that occur when buying or selling an item, including disputes over ownership, authenticity and value. For a TLDR on on the importance of provenance for an item, check out this article.

Because of the potential difficulty for a non-expert to know if a provenance is comprehensive enough for a future buyer’s standards, it is an important step to buy from a reputable auction house. It’s still important to conduct your own research, but buying from a reputable auction house can reduce your risk considerably. But how can you gauge the quality of an auction house? Ivan, a private art collector, explains in the interview below that looking at an auction house’s rate of lots sold can indicate the quality of an auction house, if they are selling a high percentage of their lots at each sale you can be confident in the reputation and quality of a sale.