A Brief Guide to Auctions


Before an item can be entered into an auction, it must be properly valued by a qualified auctioneer. The auctioneer will use their own unique knowledge and experience to assign a realistic pre-sale estimate to the item. In most cases, the estimate is presented in a sliding scale, ranging from a low estimate to a high estimate. Although the estimates give sellers a basic idea of how much their item may sell for, it is not a guarantee; some items sell for much more than their highest estimates, while others sell for much less. If a seller is particularly concerned that their item may not reach its lowest estimate in the sale room, he or she will have the option of imposing a reserve price on the item. The reserve price is the lowest price the seller is prepared to buy for; if the bidding fails to reach the reserve price, the item will remain unsold. The reserve price cannot be higher than the lowest estimate.


Prior to the auction commencing, all items will be given their own unique lot numbers and entered into the auction catalogue. It is the responsibility of the auction cataloguer to ensure that all items are recorded, tracked and printed in the auction catalogue. The catalogue will feature key information about each of the auction’s lots. Each item will have its own description, featuring details about its history and appearance, as well as a pre-sale estimate; if a reserve price has been set on an item, this may also be noted in the catalogue description.

Viewing and Inspection

Auctions typically present themselves for public viewings two to three days prior to the sale date. This is the time for potential bidders to inspect the items going up for sale for faults or signs of damage. It is extremely important that potential buyers attend the pre-auction viewing and carefully examine any items they are interested in acquiring. The conditions of sale typically assume that any individual placing a bid will have inspected the items beforehand and satisfied themselves with the item’s condition. As such, disappointed buyers who aren’t happy with their purchases may struggle to return their items if they didn’t fully inspect their item before buying it.

For bidders participating in online auctions, it isn’t always possible to physically view the items prior to the sale. Instead, auctioneers will take photographs of the items and publish them online for bidders to inspect. A detailed description of the items will also be published, detailing their appearance, size, shape and any significant history.


Nowadays, bidders have a variety of methods of bidding to choose from; here are the most popular

1. In the room

This is the traditional method of bidding. Bidders are present in the auction sale room and either nod their heads or raise their hand to place a bid.

2. Telephone

Telephone bidding allows individuals to participate in auctions without being in the room. Professional dealers often prefer to use this form of bidding to make anonymous bids.

3. Online

Online auctioneering is becoming increasingly popular. Internet bidding is easy to engage in and can either be done in real-time, or as a one-off bid on an item. In a real-time auction, the lot will typically be shown on the screen, with the bidding status displayed alongside it. The bidder will then click to register a bid. Obviously one of the problems you have with auctioning online is that you can’t see the piece, which for things such as British and Irish Art, might not be your best bet.

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