Like antiques and vintage items but tired of the regular flea markets and shops? Carlijn Potma introduces Berlin’s auction houses…
Berlin is well known for its flea markets and vintage shops. On Sundays we head out to the Mauerpark, Arkonaplatz or Boxhagenerplatz to sniff around their esoteric stalls, while stores brimming with curiosities seem to pop up on a regular basis. But there is another place to find rare antiques, collector´s items and other oddities: the auction house.
Historia is one of these distinctive places that lie somewhere between a shop and a market. Located on Kalckreuthstrasse, a charmless street in Schöneberg, the shop’s display windows are filled from top to toe with colourful ceramics, porcelain figurines, a wide range of silverware, small bronze sculptures and vintage crockery.
The Historia Auktionshaus was first established in Ganderkesee, a small town close to Bremen. The current owners, Christian Gründel and Vincent ten Vergert incorporated the company in 2006 and moved to Berlin.
Taking over an older auction house called Auktionshaus Altus, ten Vergert and Gründel changed the name of the establishment to Historia and started to arrange their first Berlin-based art and antique sales. The items they offer vary as much as the prices: from 30 euros for a Russian porcelain tea box to 3,000 euros for an Old Master painting or a pair of diamond earrings.
Every two months their building turns into something that resembles an over-packed antique shop – walls covered with paintings, display cases filled with silverware and jewellery, floors awash with Persian carpets and every corner used to exhibit various kinds of furniture.
These items come from a variety of sources, art dealers, collectors trying to minimize their huge selection of porcelain figurines, jewellers, people who are clearing their attic and more.
The merchandise is assembled a few weeks before an auction and the prices are set, usually including a minimum ‘reserve price’ – so that if the bidding does not reach a given price, the object won’t be sold.
All the objects are assigned numbers as they come into the auction house. These ‘lot numbers’ are also listed in the catalogue, along with brief descriptions, a small photo of each object and the estimated value or reserve price. During the auction, the items are sold by category (paintings, furniture, collectibles, etc.) and in the order indicated by the list in the catalogue.
The auction house acts as an intermediary between consigners and the buyers. Their space is used to exhibit the items, organise the auctions and take care of money transactions afterwards. In return, they ask for a ‘commission’ or ‘buyers premium’ – a percentage additional charge on the hammer price of sold items, usually about 20%, that’s added to the final bill of the buyer.
Before the auctions start, most auction houses have ‘viewing days’ or a ‘preview’, opening their doors to the public for a couple of days so that potential buyers can inspect all the goods that are coming up for auction. The staff are present to answer questions about the goods, or show the more valuable objects usually locked up in showcases. If you have serious interest in an item, attending a viewing day is highly recommended – it means you can make sure that lovely vase is not full of nasty chips and filigree cracks…
Examining the objects you might potentially bid on helps determine the market value and your maximum bid for each item. Use this as your ‘personal limit’ otherwise you’ll probably keep bidding during the auction and end up paying too much. Let your maximum bid depend on the quality, condition and rarity of the object, what you can afford and on the other items that you might bid on.
To attend the actual auction, you’ll need to register your personal details (name, address, phone number) after which you’ll receive a personal bidding number. Try to find a seat where the auctioneer can easily see you when you’re bidding. As soon as the auction starts, watch the action for a couple of minutes to see how it’s structured.
Once the auctioneer opens the bidding for the item of your interest, wait a few seconds to see if there are other participants. If nobody bids, the auctioneer might reduce the opening price to entice the bidding. When you are ready to join the competition, just raise your bidding number and make sure the auctioneer sees it. It can all happen pretty quickly, so stay alert and move fast. And don’t forget about that buyers premium, which will be added on the hammer price (the highest bid) of the item.
Once there are no participants willing to bid further, the auction of that object ends and the highest bidder wins. After the auction you usually get about a week to pay and pick up the merchandise. And if you’re not the highest bidder? Well it was a fun experience anyway, right?
Historia is not the only auction house in Berlin. Dannenberg, Leo Spik, and Quentin are similar places to find some great artwork or antiques. Check the websites below for info on upcoming previews and auctions.
All images by Carlijn Potma
T: 030 2181818
U: Augsburger Straße
T: 030 210 183 72
Tel: 030 821 69 79
Leo Spik Auktionen
Tel: 030 883 61 70