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Holiday Shopping Guide: Why I Buy Gifts at Auction

Vanilla. Its essence is delightful in a holiday cookie, but not so much in a holiday gift. We’ve all given them; we’ve all gotten them: gifts that are so unremarkable, so unmemorable, so “plain vanilla”, that they leave both the giver and the receiver feeling rather “Ho-Ho-Hum.”

The truth is, we all want to give and receive unique, thoughtful, and personal holiday gifts. But this seemingly simple task becomes daunting when all that is offered in stores and online is a homogenous array of “stuff.” Not only is it boring and uninspired, much of it is ill-designed, poorly-made, mass-marketed, and overpriced. So what’s a well-meaning gift-giver to do?

Here’s an idea to try this year: break with the tired holiday shopping tradition and opt to buy antiques and art at auction this season.

Good Sense, Great Taste

Antique Gold Jewelry | Holiday Gift Guide

December 6, 2011 Fine Jewelry Auction, Lot 509: Antique 18kt Gold and Reverse-painted Crystal Fishbowl Earpendants, Estimate $1,000-1,500

Buying at auction makes good sense year-round, but it is especially smart during the holidays. Some of the most memorable gifts I’ve ever given or received were purchased at auction. I’ve purchased modern photography for my children, and my brother once found a set of wrought iron antique fireplace tools at auction. He knew I would love them, and he was right.

Buying at auction is one of the most practical and surprisingly affordable ways to find beautiful, interesting, high-quality gifts that are truly unique – many are even one-of-a-kind. For example, at a typical Skinner Discovery auction, you’ll find thousands of antique offerings from the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, including furniture, fine art, decorative arts, jewelry and other specialty antiques. See a gallery of photos from our recent Discovery preview on our Facebook page.

Most of these items come to auction fresh from estates, which means they’ve been tucked away and well-cared-for for decades. This factor is what gives auction property that “fresh-to-the-market” feel. The offerings at each auction are completely different, so it’s always a thrill to find the perfect gift. We all want to watch the joyful surprise as our friends and loved ones unwrap an unexpected gem.

Auction is also one of the greenest choicest you can make during the holidays, since the fine art and antiques at auction have been recycled – some items many times over.

There’s still time to do your holiday shopping at Skinner this December. Attend an auction preview or preview online for Skinner auctions of Asian Works of Art, Fine Jewelry, The Holiday Auction, and 20th Century Design.

My Holiday Favorites

My favorite auction buys this holiday season include:

Holiday Gift Guide | Bamboo BuddhaHoliday Gift Guide | Jewelry auctionHoliday Gift Guide | Vintage dress


#5 Glittery costume jewelry for festive party attire

Sparkly jewelry is a must during the holidays. This Giorgio Armani crystal necklace is lot 521 in the Holiday Auction on December 14 and 15, 2011. Estimate $200-400.

#4 Vintage couture and accessories for that fashion-forward friend

This mid-century modern, Marimekko-style dress is also featured in the Holiday Auction. I love the bold pattern and sophisticated palette.
#3 A bamboo Buddha for peace and serenity throughout the season

This delightful bamboo carving of a seated Luochan holding a staff is Lot 437 in the Asian Works of Art auction on December 1st through 3rd. Estimate $1,000-1,500.

#2 Mid-century modern décor for the fun and funky on your list

This fabulous Wendell Castle table will be offered at our 20th Century Design auction on December 17, 2011. Estimate $15,000-20,000.


Holiday Gift Guide | Wendell Castle Table

#1 Fine jewelry!

Of course, the absolute, hands-down best buy at auction during the holidays is fine jewelry. You will simply never buy at a retail jewelry store again when you see the spectacular examples of fine jewelry including diamonds, gemstones and pearls that are offered at auction.

My pick for jewelry this season is this pair of antique fishbowl earrings. You won’t see another pair of earrings like this anywhere else.

So save the vanilla for the cookies and eggnog. Show off your good sense, green thinking, and great taste – buy your holiday gifts at auction.

What’s the most unique gift you’ve ever given? Where did you find it?

Happy Bidding and Happy Holidays!

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