Auction Terms

Absentee Bid: A method of bidding for those who cannot or do not wish to attend an auction. Absentee bids are also called “left” or “order” bids. May be placed by filling out and submitting an Absentee Bid Form in person, by fax, by scan or online. Auctioneers also place bids on behalf of absentee bidders As-Is/Where-Is: Almost every auction you’ll attend offers all property for sale at auction “as is,” meaning that the property is sold with all existing faults and imperfections. Potential buyers must inspect each item carefully before bidding. The exception to “as-is/where-is” at most large auction houses is authenticity. Usually, there is a time within a lot can be returned if both the auction house and consignor agree it is fake or counterfeit. Asking price (a.k.a. bid price): When a bidder places a bid, the auctioneer asks the other bidders if any of them will pay a specific amount above the current bid – the ask price Bid Increment: The amount by which the auctioneer increases the bidding. In general, the auctioneer will request bids of about 10% higher than the previous bid. For instance, if the bidding opens at $5000, subsequent bids of $5500, $6000, $6500, etc. would follow. The auctioneer can vary at her discretion.

Bidder number: Every registered bidder receives a unique bidder number when they register for a given auction. If you are the highest bidder, the lot number, the final bid price and your bidder number goes into the auctioneer’s book and a back-up set of records known as clerking sheets to verify your purchase.

Bought-In (a.k.a. Passed): If there are no bids on a lot, or if bidding does not reach the lowest possible selling price, the lot is “bought in,” meaning it is unsold and remains the property of the owner. The auctioneer signifies this by saying “pass”. Buy-in fee: If a lot fails to sell, many auction houses charge a buy-in fee so they can recoup some or all of the money invested in bringing the lot to market. It is usually a percentage of the lowest possible selling price. (Rago never charges a buy-in fee.)

Buyer: The person who placed the highest bid on an item becomes the buyer or new owner of that item when his bid is accepted.

Buyer’s Premium: The percentage above the hammer price paid by the buyer to the auction house that is part of the total purchase price.

Cataloguing: Every lot offered for sale is described by a description of the object and any known facts, such as the name of the artist or maker, the time of its creation, its provenance (history of its ownership), any exhibitions or publications in which it has appeared. This information is published in the auction catalogue, both in print and online. (See Lot Detail Terms Defined.)

Clerk: A person employed by auction house to record for each lot sold, the lot number, the final bid price and the bidding number of the high bidder.

Competing bids: Before and during a sale, an auction house accepts competing bids for a lot from absentee bidders, phone bidders, online and in room bidders.

Condition Report: A written description of the imperfections of an object (or lack thereof), particularly of characteristics that might affect value. This is essential information for prospective bidders.

Consignor (a.k.a. Seller): The owner who is authorizing the auction house to act as agent on his or her behalf for sale.

Consignor Agreement: The contract between the auction house and consignor.

Fair Warning: When an auctioneer announces “fair warning”, she’s saying “bid now or I am closing the lot. This is your last chance.” If there are no bids forthcoming, the auctioneer’s hammer falls and the sale is completed.

Final Selling Price: Hammer Price/High Bid + Buyer’s Premium

Gavel: The hammer traditionally used by the auctioneer’s to mark the start of a sale and to mark the close of bidding on each lot.


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