Buying or Selling at Auction: Not Just for the Tiffany Set


Leslie Hindman owns one of the country’s premier auction houses.


She famously discovered and sold a lost-in-the-attic Van Gogh, but her business isn’t all multi-million dollar works of art—she’s interested in what’s in your attic too.

I talked with Hindman about her auction house and why an average North Shore mom (who isn’t in the market for a Renoir—or anything close) should take notice.

Who buys at auction?

Smart people buy at auction and cut out the middleman. Our prices are more in line with wholesale than retail. The press loves to cover record-selling works of art, but I sell 40,000 other things from fishing rods to books.

What are some of the hottest categories?

Asian art is big right now. And 80% of the buyers are from China. They are buying their heritage back. Our auctions are about 20% Chicagoland buyers and the rest are from outside Illinois. You can buy over the Internet, by phone—it’s truly international.

What else is selling?

Jewelry is good right now. People are putting their money into tangible investments so diamonds are hot, and of course, gold continues to sell.

What’s not in style?

It’s a smart time to buy English furniture; we call it “brown wood.” Modern furniture and pieces from the 50s are hot right now, so Georgian or 19th century furniture can be bought for less than you would spend at a big box store.

And you’re not going to see your living room repeated in a catalog.

Exactly! It’s fun to go to an auction preview. You can find interesting things and learn a lot. The best of the best will always sell for a lot, but we always have a lot of very reasonable things.

How do you sell something at auction?

You can always call or email us a photo. It’s free of charge and we’ll tell you what the item might bring at auction. We’re happy to give estimates. You might not have anything of real value today, but you’ll remember that we were nice to you, and then when you have a lot to sell, you’ll know to call us.

So how do I get started? I need some dining room chairs.

Online catalogs are free at most auction houses, and you can search for what you’re interested in. You can also use sites like, or to search for upcoming auctions from around the world. If you’re interested in works of art by a specific artist, you can use

BTW: A Few Interesting Facts for the Novice Buyer

  • Auctions are final sale. It’s not Nordstrom’s so make sure you measure first, bid second.
  • Auction items are sold “as is,” but there is usually a condition report on each item, and you can always call for more information about a specific piece.
  • No schlepping required. Auction houses will ship your goods from Bangkok to Chicago. And they have the world’s best packing departments.
  • Need more help? Check out the “resources” page for links to framers and conservationists.