They were described as 'Composite Stone', which actually means 'concrete', but they looked good in the catalogue, because they had been stored outside and had a nice amount of weathering on them as lichen. They were also very large - about 8 or 9 feet high. The estimate on them was £7000 - £10,000, which would have been a good enough price for a set of concrete figures made in Northern Italy around 3 years ago.
My client wanted them for an on-going project, and had sent me off with a budget of £40,000 for them, so I felt pretty confident I would get them, but I would have been a bit embarrassed to spend that sort of money on them, but if that's what he wanted, so be it.
I spoke to a dealer before the sale, and he asked me what I was going for, and feigned anger and disappointment when I told him about these, as if he was going to buy them, but knew he couldn't match my budget.
The sale started and I waited until bidding slowed down at around £20,000 before I chipped in. Bidding against someone in the room, I brought them up and up, until the room-bidder fell out, and I found myself bidding against someone in America on the telephone. Up and up went the price until it hit £40,000 with me, then - at £45,000 - I dropped out, and the bidding continued.
The price was going up so fast and so steeply, that everyone in the auction house came out of the offices to see what was going on on the floor. The hammer came down at £98,000, meaning that the final sales price was around £130,000....
I looked around at the dealer who I had spoken to at the beginning, but by this time he was running around in small circles on the street outside, phoning his friends on his mobile. They had been his all along.
I had to wait for the end of the sale, because I was going to bid on 4 full-sized, 19th century white, hand-carved marble figures which were the last lot of the day. At 6.30 pm, I was the ONLY human being in the sale room, apart from the auctioneers and other employees, who were all staring at me intently as I bid. I was bidding straight into the eyes of the auctioneer, who was communicating with someone in Paris at the same time. I got all 4 figures for £7,500.
So it just goes to show - it's all down to presentation and hype. And, rule number one: NEVER have your item listed as the last one in the catalogue at the end of a long day's sale!
(Here's an old post about auctions which some 'newcomers' may not have seen - it gives a good idea about life in the saleroom - click here to read it.)