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An Overview of Estate Auctions: An Interview with Bill Smith of William A. Smith Inc.

By Bill Smith

Tell us about your company and its foundation.

In the spring of 1962 Bill Smith and his wife Merilyn, Hillsboro N.H. natives, held their first auction: the Estate of Silas Row. The auction was held on the grounds of the estate, and was a great success. The business grew over the years and in 1971 Bill held what was proclaimed as the "auction of the century": The Estate of James Cambell Lewis. That auction set records and gave the William Smith firm national recognition.

Today our auction firm conducts on the average of 45 auctions per year. We hold five major annual auctions: Labor Day, Memorial Day, a Thanksgiving holiday sale, a New Years holiday sale, and a mid winter sale. Our other auctions consist of "on site" estate auctions. These auctions are conducted from May to October, and have proven to be very successful.

Our other sales are evening estate auctions and specialty sales. We have several experts on staff to assist those with specialized items such as jewelry, stamps, coins, artwork, books and ephemera, and toy trains.

What is the typical process of an estate auction?

First we are contacted for the liquidation, either by family members of the deceased, or their attorney. Then, a representative of William A. Smith's visits the home to inspect items of value and discuss the process with the family. We provide services such as inventorying, packing and trucking, insurance, estimates and more.

When it comes to the day of the auction, we allow a preview time before the bidding for buyers to inspect the items. Then, the live bidding begins. Once the sale begins, the auctioneer will announce each lot and then open the bidding. Bidding progresses in sequentially higher increments. To place a bid, simply raise your paddle for the auctioneer to recognize your bid. If no one tops your bid, the auctioneer will state that the item is sold, then announce the hammer price and your paddle number.

We accept cash or good check, American Express, Visa and Mastercard.

Who or what does the money made from an auction go to?

The money raised from the auction either goes to consignors, or an individual. Sometimes a group or a trust the deceased has established may also benefit from the profits.

How are the starting prices for auction pieces determined?

Generally the auctioneer will ask for opening bids. If it gets down to a level lower then the auctioneer deems acceptable he has the right to pass the item.

Is there ever anything that is not auctioned off?

We do not auction off items of no commercial value, or items requiring a special license, such as alcohol.

What is the best way to contact you and your business?

Through email,, or phone 603-675-2549.

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