Glossary of Auction Terms

Appraisal – An appraisal is a legal document in which an accredited appraiser gives an opinion of value and supports that opinion with evidence from the appropriate market(s).

Absentee Bid – A way to place a bid at auction without actually being in the sale room or online. The bidder registers for the auction and then leaves a written bid stating the maximum s/he is willing to bid on the item. The auction house then executes his or her bid. This can be done directly with the auction house or through a bidding platform such as or

Bidding Increment – Auction houses use a set scale for bidding increments so that bidders in the room and online can anticipate the next bid. For example, from $250 to $500 the bid would increase in $50 increments. If the bidding starts at $250, then the next bid must be $300.

Bidder Number – Every registered bidder receives a unique identifying number. As each lot sells, the auction clerk records the bidder number, lot number and bid amount into an electronic or paper record.

Buy-In Fee – If a lot fails to sell, many auction houses charge a fee to recoup some or all of the money invested in bringing the lot to market such as cataloging and photography. Great Gatsby’s Auction Gallery does not charge a buy-in fee.

Buyer’s Premium – A percentage of the hammer price that auction houses charge buyers to bid at auction.

Catalog – A numerical listing of the items to be auctioned with descriptions, measurements, and usually photos. The catalogue can be online, in printed form, or both.

CITES – Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) – this set of laws and international conventions has an impact on what may be sold at auction. There are restrictions on certain types of feathers, fur, skins, horn, teeth, claws, and ivory usually having to do with animals that are extinct or on the endangered species list. Some of these substances may not be sold at all and some may be sold only if there is provenance that the item is an antique or was acquired before a certain date. If you are looking to sell antiques that contain any of the above mentioned animal products, be advised that we may not be able to assist you with the sale. For more information visit CITES website.

Commission – A fee charged by auction houses to the consignor (seller) for selling the items consigned. This fee helps cover the costs of marketing, photography, and expert cataloging. It is charged as a percentage of the hammer price.

Condition Report – A listing of issues that affect the value of an auction lot. Condition reports are usually provided by the auction house upon request.

Consign – Most auction houses sell on consignment. Meaning that the items for sale are entrusted to the auction house and payment for selling services comes as a percentage of the sale or hammer price.

Cultural Patrimony – Many countries have laws regarding the sale of items considered ‘cultural patrimony’ i.e. objects deemed to possess continuing cultural, historical, or religious importance to a culture. If such items are offered for sale the country of origin may sue to have them returned under these laws.

Estimate – A range of value within which the auction house feels that an item will sell. For example $200-$400 would be an example of a low estimate and a high estimate.

Hammer Price – The price at which the bidding ends and the auctioneer’s hammer comes down. This is the final winning bid. Commissions and buyer’s premiums are calculated based on this number.

Lot – Term used in the auction industry to denote the piece or pieces of property that have been catalogued and numbered for a sale. A lot is one unit that may consist of one piece, or a set, such as a table and chairs. Items in a sale are located according to lot number.

Phone Bid – A type of bidding method in which the auction house contacts the bidder via telephone a few lots before his/her requested lot comes up in order to bid live in the sale room.

Post-Sale Offer – If a lot should fail to sell at auction, it may be possible to make a post-sale offer. This occurs when a client contacts the auction house after a sale and offers a price for a lot outside of the normal bid structure. The auction house then contacts the consignor with the offer. The consignor may choose to accept the offer and sell at that price or s/he may request that items only be sold at auction.

Preview – Great Gatsby’s Auction Gallery sets up the lots in a sale for viewing by the public the week of the auction. Specialists are available to answer questions and clients may request condition reports. Previews are free and open to the public.

Proposal to Sell – A document listing the items that a client would like to sell with proposed estimate ranges and reserves, or the minimum selling price.

Provenance – A written or photographic history of an object or collection. Provenance may include receipts of sale, estate documents, or historical photographs of a piece.

Resale License – Dealers and resellers who are making purchases for their businesses must have a current state issued resale license on file with an auction house in order to avoid paying sales tax.

Reserve – A price under which a consignor (seller) will not sell an item.

Specialist – An expert in the field who writes the catalog descriptions and often assigns values to items for sale.

Starting Bid – Price at which auction bidding begins.