The Rock Island regional auction this past weekend was, in fact, my first experience actually participating in a gun auction – and it was a pretty interesting experience. I’ve been aware of such auctions for a long time, and drooled over the RIA glossy print catalogs for years, but never actually taken part before. I figure there are probably a lot of other folks out there who are in the same boat, so I should take the opportunity to put together a Newbie’s Guide to Auctions, for what it’s worth.
How Does it Work?
Okay, the very basics, in case anyone doesn’t know them. Each item or lot (several items being sold as a package) is shown on a screen and identified by lot number and description (which will be something very generic, like “three semiautomatic rifles”. The auctioneer will pick a starting price and start asking for bids. He (or she) will be mostly repeating the bid that they’re trying to get at the moment – it’ll sound something like “I have 500 looking for 600. 600, 600, now 600, do I have 600, 600! Now 700 700 will you do 700…” Typically you are in the room with the auctioneer, and you raise a card with your bidder number to signal the auctioneer that you will offer the amount he is asking for. Each time he gets a bid the price goes up, and so on until it nobody will offer the amount, at which point the auctioneer will say something along the lines of “going once, twice, sold for 700 to number 123” and move on to the next item.
This process goes FAST. Bidding lasts about 10-15 seconds for each item. The auctioneer is trying to set a fast and smooth tempo to the bidding, subconsciously leading people to bid fast and bid often. You can bump a price up by a thousand dollars in literally seconds. FYI, the bid increments are $25 up to $500, then $50 up to $1k, then $100 up to $2k, and $250 above that.
The Dangers – and the Solutions
Bidding at auction can become emotionally driven very easily, and for some people I’m sure it can be as dangerous as drunken gambling. it’s really easy to justify “just another $100”, and then someone counters another hundred, and you are already at $1500 and $1600 is like 5% so you can afford one more bump, and so on. Of course, there is a simple and easy solution to prevent this all from happening: plan ahead. If you don’t have the self-control to set a price and stick to it, you probably should get involved in an auction. But if you do, there is no risk or danger at all.
It took some time, but here’s what I did to prepare for the auction. I went through the catalog and noted down each lot I was interested in (there ended up being about 35 of them, out of hundreds of lots overall). I made as careful an assessment of value as I could for each lot, and determined what I would be willing to pay for it. Then I divided that number by 1.15 (1.175 if paying by credit card), to account for the bidder’s premium they I would be paying on any willing bid (which is how RIA makes its money) and subtracted an estimate of what shipping would cost. So if I was willing to pay $1000 for a trio of rifles, for example, that would be $869 less shipping, and I would round it to a maximum bid of $800. Once I determined that maximum bid, I stuck to it absolutely. Trying to recalculate what a lot is worth on the fly with the auctioneer calling out bids would be impossible for me, but being able to do all the numbers calmly ahead of time made the process easy and financially safe.
Of course, RIA is in Illinois and I’m in the southwest, so I wasn’t actually on the auction floor with a numbered card. Instead, I set up an account with RIA and placed telephone bids with no dollar amount specified. When one of my lots was a few items away, one of RIA’s staff members would call my phone and act as my proxy, bidding whatever amount I asked. Since I had my maximum numbers preplanned, this was easy – just give them my maximum as the lot came up, and watch what happened. It was easy to hear the auctioneer through the phone connection, so I could hear what was going on. In addition, I was watching the feed of the auction through Proxibid with the sound muted, so I could watch the dollar amounts changing live. After my lot was sold, the RIA staffer would either stay on the line with me if I was bidding on another lot that was just a few away, or hang up and call back when my next lot was nearing. I bid on all three days and had a different phone contact each day, and all three of them were friendly and helpful (although they all politely declined to help me out by pulling the fire alarm at the critical moment to distract other bidders).
On Sunday, in fact, I was away from my computer when the lots I was interested in were up, so I ended up bidding with just a cell phone and a paper note with my prices while on the road (no live feed to watch on a laptop). That worked out just fine as well, and allowed me to be doing this within an hour of winning a batch of rifles.
Other Remote Options
If you can’t be available on the phone when a lot is being bid, you have the option of setting a specific price and having RIA bid up to it for you. Pretty much the same as doing it on the phone, but without you having any option to exercise control over the process. I skipped that option because while I was bidding on about 35 lots, I only had funds to buy a couple. I didn’t want to find out at the end of the process that I’d won 20 lots and had no possible way of paying for them. By being in contact with my proxy, I could simply cancel all my remaining bids once I spent the money I had available. In addition, if you set a price for them to bid for you, you had better be willing to pay the whole thing. I have a friend who did this with a lot a couple years ago – he really wanted it, and gave them a maximum that he figured would be significantly more than it would sell for. When he heard back the day after the auction, he learned that he had won it for his maximum dollar value – which he was not expecting. It left him with a suspicious sour taste for the process, which could have been avoided if he’d been on the phone at the time hearing his competing bidder drive the price up.
In theory, you can also bid live online through a third party service like Proxibid, but I would discourage that. The bidding goes so fast that even a very slight delay in seeing the current bid and in entering your own bid would make it very difficult to participate effectively. Proxibid also tacks on an additional couple percent fee for themselves (and has a questionable reputation), so I see no advantage to using them.
Really, the phone bidding went extremely well for me. The only caveat to be aware of is that a floor bidder can win an auction by matching a remote bidder’s price. So If I was holding an item at $1500 and someone present on the floor bid $1500, they would take control of the sale and I would have to go to $1600 to get it. Such ties are not allowed between two bidders on the floor.
Spoils of War
Okay, so an auction isn’t quite “war”. But I did win a couple lots, and I’m very happy with the items. At least, I am so far – one thing with these auction is that which folks who are there in person have an opportunity the day before the action to handle the guns and look at them in detail, we remote bidders are much more limited. RIA provides a basic description, and overall rating of the condition, and a reasonably high-res photo of the left and right sides of the guns. You can learn a lot from that information, but not everything. Matching serial numbers, for example, are impossible to determine. Same for any small markings, which can sometimes make a huge difference in value. So I won’t know exactly what I’ve won until the guns arrive in a week or two.
That being said, there was one batch of rifles I was bidding on because it included a nice looking non-sporterized Ross MkIIIB. The shooting I did with my sporterized Ross prior to blowing it up left me really impressed with the handling and shooting characteristics of the design, and I decided I would like to have an intact one if the opportunity presented. And that’s just what it did this weekend! Here she is:
The MkIIIB is a rather rare (in the US) variant of the Ross that was purchased by Britain and reportedly issued to Home Guard units during WWII. They have a distinctive rear sight much like a No1 MkV Enfield, instead of the screw-adjusted sight on the Canadian-issue Ross rifles. The markings on the receiver should tell a lot about where the rifle has been, but I expect it to be a good shooter regardless, and I will definitely not be trying to blow it up! Actually, I’m thinking I’ll be running the next 2-gun match with this Ross and a No2 Enfield revolver…
I also won a batch of mostly-rifle magazines, and I credit that to my abnormal level of interest in unusual magazines. The lot description was pretty vague, and only identified a few of them by type. I was able to look at the photo and recognize a bunch of pretty rare types, though, and was thus willing to spend more for it than anyone else. The jewel of the batch is a dual-column magazine from the 1964 Springfield Project SPIW bullpup:
I have no idea what that magazine is worth – there can’t be many out there, but there also aren’t any people needing spares to go shoot their SPIW prototypes. It’s a moot point, though, because that mag will definitely be going into my collection of unusual gun bits. For folks not familiar with the rifle it came from, the idea was that it held two double-stack columns of ammo, one in front and one in back. The rifle would feed from one (the front, I think) first, until it was empty, and then feed from the rear column. It was a way to get twice as many cartridges without having a taller than normal magazine. The only other gun using this idea that I know of was the Vesely V42/V43 SMG.
The magazine batch also had, by my count, 7 items wrapped up or otherwise obscured from identification – so between them and the rifle markings I will have a great new treasure trove to explore when everything arrives at Forgotten Weapons World HQ!
How about you folks? Anyone else win some cool goodies?