Although auctions sound intimidating, the atmosphere at Premier Gallery -- which hosts a variety of estate auctions each month, typically on weekends -- is surprisingly laid back, even when the bidding gets frenetic. The first step is getting on the gallery's mailing list. A typical estate auction has at least an hour of preview time so that customers can get their numbered paper "paddle" and leisurely stroll around the warehouselike space before the bidding starts. At one recent auction we saw everything from rare Chinese pottery to rosary beads and battered Barbie dolls. After perusing the eccentric offerings, attendees can request that the owners reserve them a seat. The bidders who snag the front chairs are often the most aggressive, but they're looking for bargains, too. You see, it's bidders and not the merchandise who actually set the tone for how high or low prices will go. As one regular confessed, "If there are a lot of antique dealers in the room, prices won't go too high, because they don't like to pay too much. If too many Johnson Countians are there, they'll bid up the cheap stuff because they have no taste."