Carol Achterhof, Author at Thomaston Auction

Imagine an event that offers entertainment value plus learning opportunities, and admission is free. 

Attending an auction is often an enjoyable and interesting experience, and as a result, these events are attracting growing numbers of followers and participants. Some people see auctions as a means to expand their knowledge of art and antiques, and many actively participate by bidding on and purchasing distinctive items for collections or home decorating. Purchasing items at auction may also be considered a ‘green’ pursuit, as most items have been pre-owned and pre-used by a former owner.   

Auctions are an effective way to sell merchandise because the process of competitive bidding allows the final price of each item to rise to reach its market value. This differs from a retail situation where the item sits at a predetermined price waiting for a buyer willing to pay that price

  1. TYPES OF AUCTIONS: Auctions are conducted in two basic formats


  • With auctioneer - Auction which utilizes an auctioneer and is conducted on a specific date and time in front of an audience of bidders; live telephone and internet bids, plus absentee bids left in advance of auction day may also be executed during this auction
  • Silent auction – Live ascending price auction with a specified end time that does not use an auctioneer; sequentially higher bids on items are placed in writing until the bidding is closed; competing bidders are aware of the current bid level, enabling them to further advance the bidding


  • Open bid – Auction with a specified end time where bids are placed remotely by registered bidders; the current bid price is continuously communicated to auction participants until the item closes; many absentee auctions are conducted via the internet (e.g. eBay)
  • Open bid, extended end time – Similar to the above type of absentee auction, the extended end time format allows bidders to compete until no more bids are made within a pre-set end time extension. This extension is triggered if a bid is received immediately before the item is due to close.  Therefore, an online absentee auction due to end at 1:00 p.m. with a pre-set 5 minute extension, will be extended to 1:04 p.m. if a bid advance is received at 12:59 p.m.  Another bid advance at 1:03 p.m. will subsequently extend the end time to 1:08 p.m., etc. 
  • Sealed bid – Auction where participants simultaneously submit their confidential bid; the winning (highest) bidder pays the price on their submitted bid

And, there are many types of auctions based on the types of merchandise offered:

  • Fine art and antiques: Auctions that offer a diverse array of fine and decorative arts items, generally conducted by higher end auction companies 
  • Specialty auctions: Auctions that contain a specific type of merchandise, such as rare books, coins, firearms, toys & dolls, jewelry, modern art, folk art, automobiles, livestock, etc.
  • Estate: Auctions that include a diverse mix of lots comprising the belongings of a deceased person.  These sales may include household items, art, automobiles, tools, farm equipment, and personal collections.  In the case of a ‘living estate’ auction, the offered items belong to a person who is still alive.
  • Real estate: Auctions of land and/or buildings
  • Liquidation: Auctions of unsold merchandise, government owned items, etc.

Auction companies are located throughout the United States, and most local areas have multiple firms in close proximity. Website is a great tool for locating upcoming auctions within a predefined distance of any US zip code. Users can sort results by type of auction to further fine tune search results.


Before attending or taking part in an auction, it helps to understand the terminology used by auctioneers and other participants.  Here are some commonly used terms and their meanings related to auctions:

  • Preview: An opportunity for potential bidders to thoroughly examine and ask questions about items offered in the sale before the auction  
  • Catalog (or brochure): A booklet published by the auction company that provides detailed information about items included in the auction.
  • Lot: An item to be sold in the auction.  A lot may include multiple pieces, as in a ‘box lot’ (all items packed in one or more boxes that will be sold together)
  • Auction block: The location, usually a podium or platform, where the auctioneer stands while selling items.
  • Estimate:  A range of dollar amounts that the auction company believes an auction lot will sell for, based on research of recent sales of similar items
  • Paddle (bid card): Numbered card or paddle presented upon registration to each bidder in the auction.  The bidder must raise this in order to alert the auctioneer that they are placing a bid.
  • Opening bid:  The first bid on an auction lot
  • Hammer price: The final bid amount at which the auction …
  • ‘Times the Money’:  Bidding for a multi-item auction lot representing what the winning bidder will pay for EACH item in that lot; for example, a ‘times the money’ bid for lot of 8 chairs where the top bid was $25, means that the total hammer price for that lot will be $200
  • Reserve: A minimum price that a seller will accept for
  • Absolute auction:  An auction where every lot will be sold to the highest bidder without any limiting conditions or reserve.
  • Buyer’s premium:  An
  • Pass: An item that does not sell in the auction because it fails to attract bids, or if it has a reserve, it fails to generate bidding above the reserve amount.
  • Warranty:  Auctioneer’s guarantee
  • ‘As is, where is’: Item is sold without warranty or guarantee
  • Choice: In an auction of multiple similar objects, first winning bidder gets first pick of the items to purchase for the amount of their winning bid. They may take as many of the items as they want, with each item priced at the winning bid amount.  Auctioneer then opens bidding again, and the second winner gets their item choice or choices.  This continues until all items are sold.
  • Absentee bid: A bid left by a registered bidder in advance who is not present at the auction; this bid is generally executed by auction house staff during the live auction 
  • Book bid:  Same as absentee bid
  • Clerk: The individual who issues invoices and collects payments from auction buyers  
  • On-Site auction: An auction conducted at the location where the items to be sold were
  • Terms and conditions:  The rules of the auction that are communicated to all registered bidders either in writing or from the podium before the sale begins


  • REGISTRATION – In order to bid in an auction, participants must register with the auction company conducting the sale.  Typically, this involves providing name, address, phone number, and identification, such as a driver’s license.  Some auction companies may require credit card information or an advance deposit from registrants who plan to bid remotely (absentee, by telephone, or on the internet) in the sale.
  • PREVIEW– The preview is a pre-set time period prior to the sale when prospective bidders can thoroughly examine items to be sold.  At this time, the auctioneer and/or auction staff is available to answer questions about items in the sale.  The preview generally takes place before the auction begins on the day of the sale.  In the case of larger and multi-day auctions, the preview may run over a period of days.  Bidders can usually register for the auction during the preview.   
  • BIDDING OPTIONS -  There are a variety of ways to place a bid in an auction:
  1. Live in house: Bids made during the auction from the floor using a paddle or registration card
  2. Absentee: Leaving a bid in advance of the sale that will be executed electronically (in the case of online absentee bids) or by auction house staff during the auction. 
  3. Telephone:  Placing a bid by telephone while the auction is taking place; the bidder is on the telephone with an auction house employee who raises a bidding paddle/registration card to communicate their bid(s) to the auctioneer
  4. Live online: Placing a live bid over the internet that is delivered to a console on the auction floor while the auction is taking place; auction staff will execute bids as they appear on the console screen and communicate bidding status to online auction participants as the auction progresses.
    • Opening bid: When an item is brought to the podium and introduced, the auctioneer will ask for an opening bid by suggesting a starting amount to the floor.  If no bid is made, they will reduce the suggested starting amount until a first bid is made.
    • Increments:  After an opening bid has been made, the auctioneer will request subsequent bid advances in preset amounts.  For example, an auctioneer may call for increases in increments of $5 or $10 when bidding is under $100; $25, when bidding is $100 to $500; $50, from $500 to $1,000; etc.
    • Fair warning: Just before an auctioneer closes bidding on an item, they generally will warn bidders that they are about to close it by using phrases such as ‘fair warning’, ‘all in, all done’, ‘last call’, or ‘going once, going twice’.  This signals the final opportunity for participants to place a bid. 
    • Closing the bidding:  The bidding is ended when the auctioneer says ‘sold’.  Once an item is sold, ownership of the item passes from the consignor to buyer.   
  • TALLYING YOUR TOTAL – Auction bidders often keep track of their spending by recording information about each item won along with the final bid amount on a sheet of paper or their bid card.  This process makes check out faster after the sale, and it is a great cross-check of the auction house’s recording accuracy.  Be sure to take note of the buyer’s premium (if any) and relevant state/local sales tax when completing an auction tally.
  • PAYMENT - Bidders are expected to pay in full for their auction purchases, including buyer’s premium and any relevant state/local sales taxes, immediately after the sale.  In addition to cash and checks, most auctioneers accept bank transfers or credit cards for auction purchases.  Auction invoices are sent to remote bidders (absentee, telephone and internet) after the sale...    
  • COLLECTION OF GOODS – After payment.
Live Auction - Thomaston Place Auction Gallery


Thomaston Place Auction Galleries
New England's Trusted Auction
& Appraisal Professionals

We often hear stories of people who have purchased things at yard sales that turn out to be worth thousands of dollars.  This is great news for the new owners, but very unfortunate for the people who made the decision to sell the items in the first place.

It is always a good idea to check out the current value of items you may be considering selling, giving away, or discarding before you do so. 

A few years ago, two people joined us on one of our regular free appraisal day sessions with an item concealed in a paper carrier bag.  We all gasped when it was removed from the bag—a rare 18th Century Boston sampler. We preliminarily valued this piece at $50,000 to $100,000.  Further research revealed that it was sewn by the daughter of the man who rowed Paul Revere across the Charles River on the night of his famous ride.  This additional provenance, along with the quality and aesthetic appeal of the piece, drove up the ultimate selling price to $465,750—at the time, a world record price for a single sampler!

Your approach should start by determining the type of valuation you need. 

  • Verbal assessments:  Most downsizing situations only require an “informal” appraisal, where no final report or document is provided.  In these cases, you or a friend should take notes as the appraiser evaluates your items.  Many auctioneer or dealer appraisers do not charge for this service.
  • Formal appraisal: A ‘formal’ appraisal always includes a written document that provides descriptive details of each item and full disclosure of all assumptions and disclaimers associated with the valuation process. These are appropriate in attorney/court-ordered estate settlements, in cases where a valuation is needed for insurance purposes, or when market value documentation is required for IRS reporting ( such as for major donations to museums or charity). 

Be sure to request a “market value” for items to be dispersed. This is an estimate of what your item(s) will sell for in today’s secondary marketplace, such as in resale or antique shops, or at auction.  

With valuations in hand, you now have necessary information in hand for creating a plan to disperse your items with confidence, while achieving your desired outcomes.

  • Insurance
  • Legacy Planning
  • Downsizing
  • Gifting to Family
  • Donations
  • Selling your items

Major life changes may prompt you to consider strategies for managing or reducing your personal possessions.  Sooner or later, all of us will find ourselves in one or more situations requiring the dispersal of accumulated belongings.  These situations may include relocating to a smaller home, a need to reduce collection(s), clearing the estate of a family member who has passed away, or planning for the future handling of your own estate items.

At Thomaston Place Auction Galleries, we have extensive experience assisting people who are making plans for their possessions.  This guide incorporates the most important considerations and planning steps developed over our many years of supporting clients through this challenging process. 


  1. Get an appraisal: First, you must determine the current market value of your possessions by obtaining a professional valuation.  This will help you balance sentimental or family value with insight into how the marketplace will evaluate your items.
    • Identify an appraiser – Select an appraiser who is active in today’s marketplace (as an auctioneer, dealer, or professionally accredited appraiser) and has an understanding of the current  market for a wide variety of antiques, jewelry, art, and household goods. 
    • Conduct the right kind of appraisal
      • Informal: Most downsizing situations only require an “informal” appraisal, where no final report or document is provided.  In these cases, you or a friend should take notes as the appraiser evaluates your items.  Many auctioneer or dealer appraisers do not charge for this service.
      • Formal:  “Formal” appraisals are required in cases where a detailed and certified assessment of market value is required by the court, or documentation is needed for IRS reporting purposes. A detailed written document is provided describing each item and giving full disclosure of assumptions and disclaimers associated with the valuation process.  Another type of formal appraisal can be developed for insurance purposes, to document the replacement cost in case items are damaged or lost.
    • Important tips
      • For downsizing purposes, be sure to get a “market value” for items. This is an estimate of what your item(s) will sell for in today’s secondary marketplace, such as in resale or antique shops, or at auction.
      • The amount charged for an appraisal should NEVER be based on a percentage of the valuation.  Rather, it should be based on a set hourly fee. 
      • Make the process more efficient by using a “top down” approach to organizing items for appraisal – spending the most time and effort on items likely to have the greatest value (such as jewelry, coins, silver and original artwork) and working down to household items that may be grouped together.
  2. Communicate: Tell interested family members or friends that you are beginning the downsizing process so that you may learn about any special requests or concerns.  The key is to listen without making any decisions at this time.
  3. Identify your goals:  With market values and input from interested parties in hand, consider the priorities and outcomes most important to you.  Is financial return the most important thing, or does quick dispersal of items take precedence? Are there items that should stay in the family? Do you want to make charitable donations?    
  4. Create a plan:
    • Items to retain – These are things that are important to you because they bring comfort and pleasure.
    • Items for gifting to family/friends – For these, write up any historical details to serve as provenance for future generations.
    • Items to be donated to charity, museums, or libraries - Remember that a formal written valuation of these items may be needed for IRS purposes.
    • Items to be sold – Keep in mind that the marketplace does not offer any monetary value for sentiment associated with an item.


  1. “Top Down” Approach:  Apply the “top down” philosophy in determining the best way to sell your items, applying the most time and effort to those with the highest values and working down to lower value pieces. 
  2. Selling options:
    • Sell it yourself – You directly handle the sale of items by garage/yard sale, selling using a newspaper/online ad, selling online (eBay or other venue), or selling to a friend or family member.
    • Retail consignment – For a commission, you authorize another party to sell your item(s) in a consignment or second hand goods shop.
    • Auction consignment – For a commission, you authorize an auctioneer to sell your items to the highest bidder.  In selection of the best auction venue for your items, keep in mind that there are different types of auction companies:
      • Premium – focused on high value merchandise and conduct cataloged auctions marketed to a worldwide buying audience
      • Liquidators – have more frequent sales and deal primarily in lower value goods, often sold in box lots; generally attract a local audience only
      • Specialty – companies that specialize in a specific type of merchandise (e.g. automobiles, books and paper, livestock, etc.) 
  3. Proceed with care: Regardless of the selling approach you choose, it is important to deal with established businesses that have solid reputations for integrity, dependability, and results
    • Ask for recommendations from friends and family.
    • Get all transactions in writing (e.g. consignment contract and inventory sheets including all items removed from your possession).
    • Make sure you understand all agreement terms.  If you have any doubts or questions, have your attorney review any documents before you sign.
Free Appraisal Day - Thomaston Place Auction Galleries

Every Tuesday is Free Appraisal Day at our Thomaston gallery:

10:00 a.m. to noon & 1:30 to 4:00 p.m.

House call appraisals by appointment.

Our thoughtful, discreet approach to guiding consignors through the auction process has resulted in an expanding base of families and institutions who entrust their treasures to us. We are happy to assist with small collections, complete estates, or anything in between!

Please feel free to contact us by telephone:  207-354-8141 or 1-800-924-1032

Or, by email:

What Makes an Item Valuable?

Many believe that age is the primary contributor to an object’s value.  However, we often see contradictions to this idea in the sales results for items sold at auction every day.  Some contemporary works of art and designer furniture are achieving world-record prices, while many antiquities and examples of early American furniture are bringing weaker than expected results. 

Our analysis of the fine and decorative arts marketplace suggests that there are four important factors at work in establishing value – quality, rarity, market appeal, and condition.  The most valuable items, regardless of age, usually score high on all four, and value is reduced if any one of these factors is lacking.


Quality is timeless, and it refers to excellence of design and execution of construction, as well as materials used in creating an item.  High quality items also can inspire emotions -- particularly those perceived as extraordinarily  beautiful, elegant, or innovative.   A specific artist, designer, factory, or brand name that has a positive reputation can reinforce or enhance belief in an item’s quality.

For example, early 20th Century stained glass panel table lamps by unknown makers typically sell for $500 to $1,000, while stained glass lamps bearing the name Tiffany Studios generally bring $10,000 or more at auction.  Likewise, a typical antique steamer trunk today sells for between $50 and $100, but a sale prices for vintage trunks by Louis Vuitton can range from $10,000 to $25,000.   

A handmade object constructed of the finest materials will generally carry a higher value than one that was mass produced, regardless of age. A hand crafted contemporary chest of drawers will command a higher price on the secondary market than a 100-year-old factory made chest.   This principle holds true for virtually all goods, such as carpets (hand knotted vs. machine made), glassware (blown vs. mass produced), etc.

Another aspect of an object’s quality is documentation of its history, or provenance.  The value added by provenance can often eclipse the value of the item itself.  For example, most mid-20th Century leather US Air Force Bomber jackets might be expected to sell for $200 to $400, while John F. Kennedy’s 1962 bomber jacket brought $570,000 at auction in 2013.  The JFK connection brought tremendous added value to this otherwise ordinary item.


Rarity, meaning scarcity of available examples of an object, is another factor driving value.    

Age can play a role in rarity because many examples of an older item may have been disposed of, lost, or destroyed over the years.   It is important to note, however, that not all old items are rare.  A great example is ancient Roman oil lamps -- many of these utilitarian pieces were made, many survived, and often can be purchased for less than $100. 

There are examples of more recent objects that are valuable because few were made (such as a custom made musical instrument), or because they were often disposed of after use.  In the early 20th Century, posters promoting new films were mass produced and distributed to theaters throughout the US.  Later, most theaters discarded them, making original examples scarce and in demand today among collectors. A poster promoting Fritz Lang’s 1927 film “Metropolis” brought $1.2 million at auction in 2012.   

Works of art, which are generally created as unique pieces, are by definition rare; and works by important artists can bring high prices at auction.  However, the relative appeal of a particular artist’s style and the overall abundance of pieces created by a specific artist can also factor in to the value of each work.

current market appeal:

The breadth of current interest in an object also impacts its value.  The relative appeal of various decorative styles can ebb and flow with current fashion.  For example, interest in the ornate, heavy motifs of Victorian design has declined in recent years, while the appeal of mid-century modern styles has increased. 

Additionally, the relevance or usefulness of objects can shift depending on lifestyle trends. To illustrate this factor, in recent years there has been diminished demand for fine china and silver flatware because of decreasing numbers of homes that have formal dining rooms. 


The condition of an object can, and in many cases, be the most important factor affecting value.  Chipped pottery or glass, damaged artwork, and broken furniture generally bring a fraction of the price of similar, undamaged pieces at auction.

Good, careful restoration of some antique pieces can enhance their value (but not necessarily to the full value of undamaged examples) because it restores their aesthetic appeal and/or usefulness.  

However, the decision of whether to restore must be made carefully, as altering a rare, museum quality piece from its original state, e.g. trimming a painting or lithograph, refinishing or painting an important piece of furniture, can reduce its appeal to collectors and its ultimate selling price.   


An open mind is important when determining the current value of personal possessions.  Sentimental value does not drive price, nor is age of an item a key factor.

While it is impossible affect changes in market appeal, responsible caretakers should strive to protect the value of treasured heirlooms or collected pieces by recording/retaining any provenance or history and protecting condition of these pieces.

Maine’s maritime and artistic traditions have made it a vast repository of fine art and treasures accumulated over hundreds of years, and Thomaston Place Auction Galleries has been perfectly situated to present many of these items to the world marketplace.

For over 40 years, Thomaston Place Auction Galleries’ owner and auctioneer Kaja Veilleux, has discovered many important pieces in Maine estates and collections that have brought world record prices at auction.  “Finding a rare or extraordinary treasure is always exhilarating, but I equally enjoy helping people appreciate the history and value of their items.  Our emphasis on personal service and providing knowledge to our clients builds trust and helps clients make more informed decisions;” noted Veilleux.

During a home visit in Yarmouth, ME, Veilleux came across an 18th Century over mantel painting that was executed by a compatriot of Boston Tea Party participants.  The home owners were hoping for a little extra money for renovations, but the painting brought over $600,000 – more than the total value of the house.  This important work now hangs in the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA.

After research, it was determined that a beautiful Boston silk on linen sampler brought to Thomaston Place on a free appraisal day was wrought by Betsey Bentley, the daughter of the man who rowed Paul Revere across the river on the night of his famous ride.  This fine piece fetched $465,750 – at the time, a world record auction price for a single sampler.

A rare circa 1885 carved and inlaid rosewood art folio cabinet attributed to Herter Brothers uncovered in a Maine estate sold for $121,000 and now resides in a museum.

A little known painting by American Impressionist Joseph DeCamp was shipped to Thomaston Place from Vermont for a free appraisal day evaluation and possible consignment.  It brought $605,000 at auction, a record for this artist’s work.

And finally, an outstanding collection of American art recently consigned to Thomaston Place raised over $1.5 million at their recent summer 2016 auction.

Thomaston Place Auction Galleries is Maine’s premier auction and appraisal resource and a leading source of fine art, antiques and fine decorative items.  They offer free appraisals every Tuesday at their Thomaston gallery, provide house call valuations, and support charitable organizations with fundraising programs.  Quality auction consignments are always accepted.

Business hours are 9 am to 5 pm (eastern time) Monday–Friday.
Thomaston Place Auction Galleries
PO Box 300
Thomaston, Maine 04861
51 Atlantic Hwy
Thomaston, ME 04861
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