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The Auction Lingo to Know to Become a Bidding Pro
Going, going, gone!
Art Stuff 31 Jan 2022

Often the jargon of the auction industry can get confusing. Navigating auctions both online and in-person sales can be difficult to master if you are new to the concept without knowledge of the accompanying terminology. Mainstream auction terminology tends to be consistent regardless of the company, whether a traditional auction house like Sotheby’s or an online-only model like Artsy, so once you master our glossary below, you are going to be a bidding pro. Or you may even have some family heirlooms you are wishing to consign?

Going, going, gone!

Absentee Bid (also Commission Bid) : The bid/multiple bids executed by the auctioneer on behalf of a client, according to a maximum amount specified by the bidder prior to the auction, for those who cannot or do not wish to attend an auction.

Appraisal: An act of assessing the formal evaluation of the fair market and/or insurance value of a given property. Fair market value represents what the auction house believes an item would bring at auction. Insurance value reflects what it would cost to replace an item.

Artist Resale Right (or Droit de Suite) : Droit de suite (French for “right to follow”) or Artist’s Resale Right (ARR) is a right granted to artists or their heirs, in some jurisdictions, to receive a fee on the resale of their works of art.

Auctioneer: The person responsible for conducting a sale by auction.

Bidding Increment: A pre-determined amount by which a bid will be raised each time the current bid is outdone. 

Buyer’s Premium: A Buyer’s Premium will be added to the successful bid price and is payable by the buyer as part of the total purchase price. You can find out about the particular auction house’s buyer’s premium via their website. It will differ from auction house to auction house.

Cataloguing: The information provided by a specialist about a lot offered for sale. The information may include the name of the artist or maker, a detailed description of the object, medium, the year of its creation, its provenance, exhibition and or gallery history – etc.

Catalogue Raisonné: A catalogue raisonné (or critical catalogue) is a comprehensive, annotated listing of all the known artworks by an artist either in a particular medium or all media. The works are described in such a way that they may be reliably identified by third parties.

Condition Report: A specialist’s written detailed report of a lot’s present condition available upon request.

Consignor: The owner who is giving property to an auction house to act as agent on his or her behalf for sale.

Consignment Agreement: A legal contract drawn up between the consignor and vendor outlining the terms of sale and any associated fees, including seller’s commission.

Commission: An amount paid by the consignor to an auction house, which is deducted from the price of a work sold.

Estimate: An estimate is the price range, from low to high, in which a work of art is expected to sell. It is the expert’s valuation of an item’s possible selling price at auction.

Fair Market Value: A term frequently used by appraisers referring to their judgment and opinion about an object’s likely sale price if offered by a willing seller to a willing buyer.

Fair Warning: A warning given by an auctioneer to signal that the hammer is about to come down, closing all bids on a lot.

Gavel: Another name for the auctioneer’s hammer used to close the bidding.

Hammer Price: The price at which an item is sold at auction and announced by the auctioneer as he/she lowers the hammer. This does not include the buyer’s premium and any other added fees, such as VAT etc.

Lot: An individual object or group of objects offered for sale at auction as a single unit.

Medium: A general term used to describe the material used to create an object, for example watercolor, oil, bronze, wood – etc.

No Reserve: When there is no reserve on a lot, it will be sold to the highest bid with no limitations on the amount reached.

Oeuvre: A term that describes an artist’s “body of work”.

Opening Bid: The first bid placed by a registered bidder at an auction.

Paddle: An object displaying the number assigned to a bidder when he or she registers at the auction.

Pass: A common term used by the auctioneer to close the sale of an item and indicate that a lot has failed to reach its reserve price.

Primary Market: A market created when an object is sold for the first time. The first sale typically happens directly from the artist’s studio or through an agent or gallery.

Provenance: An item’s previous ownership or place/source of origin that describes its history. If an object’s provenance is significant and not confidential, it is included in the lot description. Provenance can significantly impact the value of an object.

Price Realized: The price an item sells for, totaling the hammer price and the buyer’s premium. 

Reserve or Reserve Price: Never formally disclosed, the reserve price is the confidential minimum price agreed upon between the consignor and the auction house. If the reserve is not met, the lot will not sell.

Specialist: A person who is an expert in a specific subject and or field of art and antique collecting.

Secondary Market: A market that deals in objects that have been previously sold, at least once.

Sell-Through Rate: An assessment of an auction’s performance after bidding has closed, which calculates the rate by lot and by value.

Starting Price: The lowest price a seller will accept for the sale of his/her item (unless a Reserve Price exists).

Telephone Bid: A bid executed by a member of staff during live lot bidding on behalf of a client via telephone.

Tie Bid: This happens when two or more people bid on a lot for exactly the same amount at the same time. The resolution is often up to the auctioneer’s discretion or explained in the auction’s T&Cs.

Under Bidder: A term sometimes used to describe someone who bid the second highest amount, just below the winning bid, at auction.

Valuation: A detailed description and current value of property prepared by the auction house’s staff.

Withdrawn Lot: A lot that has been removed prior to an auction.

White Glove Sale: An auction in which each lot is sold, creating a 100% sell-through rate.

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Whitechapel Gallery - London, UK
Research Associate, Krasner & Pollock Exhibition
The Metropolitan Museum of Art - New York, USA
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Art Works Gallery & Advisory - Singapore
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Karimah Ashadu - Germany