Today the intern group took a field trip to Sotheby’s main location on York and 72nd. We were there to learn about the auction system from Sotheby’s head auctioneer, Hugh Hildesley. Hildesley has been at Sotheby’s since the 1960s, and is a dapper older British man who basically fulfills every stereotype in your mind but in the best way possible.
Hildesley explained the auction process to us, from how to participate in an auction to issues of commissions etc., and then conducted a mock auction (or Mocktion) as I call it. We were all given paddles and budgets (I had a pithy budget of $130,o00) and then we had to battle it out over eight lots of Americana from the 1800s. On the last lot Hildesley claimed to have “lost his voice” and asked for a volunteer auctioneer.
Who do you think volunteered?
I figure, I can talk fast, I’ll be fine. No. Running an auction is hard. I climb up in the little fancy podium where Hildesley was standing and get clipped with a microphone (I stood where many expensive art has been sold, that must count for something!) and I got to hold the pen and the gabble. I called the lot, a lovely chest with inlaid wood from Massachusetts…and then the bidding started and I lost all sense of intelligence and logic. I miscounted the bids, I got confused with all the flying paddles, the phone bidders to my sides were distracting me. Somehow I skipped a bunch of numbers and got to $100,000 dollars without realizing is and it was just DREADFUL. I think I called the item at $240,000? Anyhow, I was an utter failure as an auctioneer but whatever, at least now I know that running auctions is not my calling. Also, every now and then I like to shake myself up to ensure the longevity of my chutzpah. I think it is up and running.
Moral of the story: running an auction is really hard, and I have supreme respect for people who choose this profession, as it is not for the faint of heart.