London's big three international auction houses Christie's, Sotheby's and Bonhams are where you pick up a Picasso or Cartier tiara. But the city also has auction houses that sell more affordable items. They tend to be friendly, clubby places where you can rub shoulders with all sorts of collectors and be entertained by the bidding (the auctioneers really do say "I give you fair warning" and "going, going, gone"). And who knows? You might even raise a paddle and find yourself going home with an entirely unexpected souvenir. Here are four great hunting grounds.
Located in Angel Islington an area of north London full of antique shops, boutiques, cafés and pubs Criterion offers an extraordinary miscellany of furniture, jewelry and objets d'art. Fancy an amusing bronze pig or giant jade bowl? This is where you might find it. The small crowd of buyers is welcome to sit on the furniture for sale which ranges in style from Biedermeier to Swedish Modern and there's a cozy ambience. Kick back on an Art Deco settee and enjoy the auctioneer's banter: "Now here's a tiger-fabric chaise longue. Remember Eartha Kitt? She would have liked it, but if you take this home I think your husband would definitely leave you." Sales are every Monday at 5 p.m., and lots start as low as $20. See criterion-auctioneers.co.uk for details.
Tucked between grandiose flats, a vehicle compound and a decommissioned power station, this Chelsea auction house specializes in furnishings, especially contemporary ones. You can pick up everything from barely used modern suites to outsized stone pineapples for your garden. There are monthly specialist sales for things such as lighting, mirrors or rugs and Russian art sales are held three times a year. The atmosphere is casual, with people coming in and out, and bidding is brisk. If you're wondering how to get that bulky purchase home, see lotsroad.com, where you'll find a list of delivery companies offering international shipping. Sales are held on Sundays.
Located a stone's throw from the big-name designer shops of New Bond Street, Bloomsbury Auctions deals in books, prints, posters, photographs, maps anything, in fact, on paper. Sales aren't held to a fixed timetable, so see bloomsburyauctions.com for dates of forthcoming events. (An auction of ephemera and propaganda from China under Mao, including the first Hebrew edition of the Little Red Book, takes place on Nov. 5.) There's a high tweed-jacket count book-collecting seems to be the province of silver-haired gentlemen, who bid courteously and quietly. Expect shelves crammed with leather-bound books and many more in cardboard boxes on the floor. Heaven for bibliophiles.
Chiswick Auctions, located in a quiet suburb among terraced houses and industrial units, is known for fine art, antiques and collectibles. Bidding is serious, prices start from about $50, and the crowd is large. You may end up in an episode of the BBC's Cash in the Attic, which is sometimes filmed here. Auctions are held every Tuesday from 12 noon. See chiswickauctions.co.uk for details.