- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 5, 2000

Estate auctions are fun and provide an opportunity to acquire a piece of history or simply see objects from another era. The Washington area has a number of auction houses, each with its own distinctive flavor. Be careful, however, as auctions can become addictive.
Auctions have been around for centuries and provide a means of buying and selling merchandise at fair market value. Everything from cars to horses to machinery and real estate is sold at auction.
"My great-grandfather started Weschler's in 1890," says Virginia Weschler, executive vice president of Adam A. Weschler & Son Inc. Today, six members of the Weschler family still run the business, which is a D.C. landmark.
Every Tuesday at 9:30 a.m., Weschler's holds estate auctions at its auction house. A recent Tuesday found an interesting mix of participants, including antiques dealers, vendors and people working downtown.
"We have people who have been coming here for the past 35 to 40 years," Ms. Weschler says.
A number of items ranging from pictures to rugs to furniture were auctioned at reasonable prices. By midafternoon, the action moved to items in a glass display case, and the bidding became more intense and competitive.
One antiques dealer, who asked not to be identified, says she comes frequently and buys specific items, such as antique jewelry, with particular customers in mind. She purchased several pieces of jewelry, which she had examined the day before the auction, and smiled when asked if they were already sold.
One disappointed customer lost out on a pair of Victorian pearl cuff links. Shirley, who didn't want her last name printed, stopped bidding at $150. The D.C. resident says, however, that she has furnished her entire house by attending Weschler's auctions over the years.
Besides the Tuesday estate auctions, Weschler's holds specialized catalog auctions of jewelry, coins, American and European paintings, Asian artwork, and American and English furniture.
"Everything we auction is on consignment," Ms. Weschler says. This principle was established by her great-grandfather, Adam Weschler, and continues today. None of the items auctioned is owned or bought by the house, a practice that ensures items are sold at fair market value.
In the catalog auctions, individuals consigning items can put a reserve price on the article so it will not be sold if bidding does not reach that price. This protects the consignor and guarantees that the item will not be sold for less than it is worth.
Sloan's Auctioneers & Appraisers, now in Bethesda, was originally in the District. It is the second-oldest auction house and sixth-largest in the United States, according to its Web site.
Sloan's holds "attic sales" every Thursday at 10 a.m., with previews on Wednesdays from 4 to 8 p.m. It also holds specialized catalog auctions featuring furniture and decorative arts, rugs and carpets, Asian artwork, paintings and prints, books, silver, and even toys and sports memorabilia. All items in the auction are consignments, and consignors can set a reserve on items.
In keeping with the times, Sloan's will initiate monthly Internet auctions on Sept. 15.
Laws Auctioneers Inc. is a third-generation, family owned auction house in Manassas. It began as a livestock auction about 60 years ago and was the hub of activity in town, Lee Laws says. His father, Sonny Laws, who is a second-generation family member, is the auctioneer, and Lee Laws handles other aspects of the business. Laws Auctioneers also works strictly on consignment.
"One of the most unusual items recently was a buffalo head," Lee Laws says. "There were two or three people that really wanted it. It went to someone in Jackson Hole, Wyo., for about $3,000. We were quite surprised. That's what makes the auctions fun."
Laws has Friday night "whatever" auctions, which are everyday general auctions that start at 6 p.m. It holds estate auctions on Saturdays at 7 p.m., Sundays at noon and Mondays at 6 p.m.
"Once a month, we have brand-new furniture from model-home companies. People normally get great deals," he says. Because of the hot real estate market, he says, they are almost two to three times as busy with furniture from builders' model homes.
Laws does not allow a reserve on its consignments. Consignors can send photos and will be provided with an estimate of what the item is likely to sell for at auction, based upon sales of similar items.
Mount Vernon Auction Center in Mount Vernon also is a good place to attend an estate auction. A recent Saturday-evening auction had a variety of antique furniture, oriental rugs, fine porcelain, paintings, lamps and even a plug-in traffic light.
A nice oak Victorian dresser with mirror and double serpentine drawers sold for $450, while many of the porcelain pieces fetched high prices.

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