From Sotheby's to eBay Auctioneer Leslie Hindman Demystifies the Art of the Deal

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Byline: Deborah Donovan Daily Herald Staff Writer

Have you chortled over a "find" at an online auction, only to realize when that vase arrives that it's something you would have ignored on the dollar table at a rummage sale?

Take comfort in the fact that Leslie Hindman knows how you feel.

Yes, that Leslie Hindman, the famous auctioneer.

"The biggest mistake people make - including me - is they don't preview and don't ask questions. On eBay, I buy stuff all the time that I don't like. But it's only $10, so who cares, right?"

And what is Hindman buying?

"Junk. American '40s pottery. Junk. I don't know why."

Auctions are certainly an American pastime, and Hindman is a good one to help us make the most of our experiences, whether online or in front of a live gavel. She has been part of the scene all of her adult life.

Her new book, "Adventures at the Auction" (Clarkson Potter, $27.50) demystifies the auction business.

"I've been in this business forever. I always have found that for some reason people find it scary. It's not an industry people know that much about," Hindman said.

"People want basic information. They don't want to know everything about auctions and how they work. That's how I wrote it."

After working for Sotheby's, Hindman started her own Chicago auction house in 1982. It took off immediately.

"It was a success because there wasn't really a good auction house in Chicago. There was no one doing upscale marketing that was fun and peppy," Hindman said.

"I hired fun, peppy people. They were lively with a sense of fun and marketing. They knew how to get people to go to auctions, how to let people know about them nationally and internationally and maintain relationships. They knew how to have people fly in from London and (to) call them afterwards."

She sold that company to Sotheby's in 1997 and remained as Midwest president for two years.

Now Hindman appears on two shows on HGTV as well as NBC's "Today Show." She is the owner of Salvage One in Chicago and founder of, which provides appraisals on the Internet.

The Chicago antique and collectible auction scene is rather sparse these days, said Hindman. And online auctions have certainly contributed to its demise, she said.

Sotheby's has sales in town but lots have to be worth at least $500 or $1,000 each, she said, "pretty high for most people."

Dunning, an Elgin auction house, was sold to Butterfields, which is now owned by eBay and no longer has a Chicago office.

She did praise Bunte Auction Services Inc. of Elgin, which has taken over for Dunning.

In the city, Direct Auctions is still in business, and Richard Wright deals mostly with mid-century treasures.

Hindman will be filming her HGTV shows at Sloan's in Washington.

She is definitely not against online auctions, however.

"I think they're the greatest things in the world," she said. "You get access to millions of objects all over the world."

Of course, fits in well with this.

"We have 750 specialists in every collecting category. You upload photos of something you own or are thinking of owning. We like to have three pictures and will take up to six."

From the thousands of photos Hindman has seen of old stuff, she ascertains that people who own things really want to know what they're worth.

"We want specific information to make the Eppraisal," she said. "If it's a book, we want to see the spine, the front page and to know the condition. …