The Strange Vocabulary at Auctions

t's a good idea to know a few things before buying antiques at auction !
It’s a good idea to know a few things before buying antiques at auction !

I remember the first time I attended an antique auction. I  felt intimidated to be buying antiques on the same level as experienced dealers and collectors. On top of that the auctioneer had his own vocabulary that I couldn’t understand. But I learned fast.

Here are some terms auctioneers use and what they mean:

RESERVE PRICE: The minimum price the consignor of the object will accept at the auction.

ABSOLUTE AUCTION: An auction where there are no reserves. Everything sells to the highest bidder, regardless of the price.

PASSED: What happens to a piece when it does not meet its reserve price.

LOT – Usually with a number after it. This is what the individual items are called. Sometimes the auctioneer will give the buyer a choice of several items within a lot and then re- auction the balance.

Antiques & Collectibles
Antiques and Collectibles are not usually so well displayed at auctions.

BUYER’S PREMIUM: The percentage that is added on to the cost of an item. If the winning bid is $50 and the premium is 15% the cost to the bidder is $57.50 plus applicable taxes.

CONDITION OF SALE: This is the “fine print” or house rules around the buying of items at auction. Make sure you read these before you start bidding.

AS IS, WHERE IS: This is essentially a “Buyer Beware” clause. You have no regress if an item isn’t what you thought, or the auctioneer said it was – for any reason whatsoever.

ABSENTEE BID This means someone who is not at the auction in person has bid on a particular item. They have indicated the highest price they are prepared to pay for it by filling out an absentee bid form.

BID INCREMENT: The amount by which each successful bid increases. The higher the value of the item the larger the increments are.

JUMP BIDS: In order to crowd out other bidders a buyer may choose to ignore the stated increments and bid much higher.

Balloon back chairs
Balloon back chairs. Bidding could be for one but buyer agrees to buy all the ones in the lot. Known as “x’s the money”.

ONE MONEY: The price that an auctioneer is asking for when there are several different items for sale in one lot.

X’s THE MONEY: The opposite of one money. The bids are for one item only x’s the number of items. A lot may include 7 single chairs. The bidding is for one chair times 7. A lot of people get caught on this one.

FAIR WARNING: The term the auctioneer uses when he is about to sell the item to the final bidder. It’s a warning to all interested parties.

HAMMER PRICE: The amount an item has sold for excluding buyers premium and taxes.

PHANTOM BIDS: In order to keep interest going in an object and get a higher price, less scrupulous auctioneers will call out a bid that has not been made by anyone.

I am dedicating this short blog entry to Arthur Clausen, an auctioneer who taught me a great deal about the world of antiques. He passed away in April of this year. He is greatly missed.

5 thoughts on “The Strange Vocabulary at Auctions

  1. We attend a good many auctions and have picked up much of the language but learned a few things here. Thanks for sharing this. Great post!

      1. Auctions are great fun but, yes, it pays to know the lingo. It also pays to watch your body language. A few weeks ago I unintentionally won the bid on an item by waving to my wife to let her know where I was sitting. It’s a good thing it was a small, inexpensive item.

      2. Yes it has happened to me too and it’s embarrassing to try to talk yourself out of it. I was lucky. The gavel hadn’t come down yet – thank heavens because it was a large bookcase!

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