Auction 101: Learn the Lingo

Ron Shipmon is an art advisor and fine art appraiser based in New York. He offers this glossary for first-time auction-goers.

LOT: An item (or set of items) offered for a single price at auction. Each lot is assigned a number.

AUTHORSHIP:
The creator of an object, or the time period in which it was created (e.g. Pablo Picasso, the Blue Period, 1903).

PROVENANCE:
An item’s ownership history, which might be supported by sales records or other documentation. Provenance can significantly impact the value of an object.

CONSIGNOR:
The seller-owner of the item offered for sale.

PRESALE ESTIMATE:
An expert opinion of the price range which a lot might sell based on comparable items, provenance, condition and other factors.

RESERVE:
The minimum acceptable price for which an item can be sold. This is a confidential number agreed upon by the owner of an item and the auction house. If bidding ends before the reserve price is reached, the property remains unsold.

RECORD PRICE:
The highest price ever publicly paid for a particular artist’s work or object.

HAMMER PRICE:
The winning bid for a lot at auction, exclusive of the buyer’s premium.

BUYER’S PREMIUM:
A commission or fee the buyer pays the auction house, in addition to the hammer price, as part of the total purchase. Commissions can range from 12 to 25 percent; sales tax is additional.

SELLER’S COMMISSION: The fee the consignor is charged by the auction house for selling the consignor’s property. The fees vary, but can range from 1 to 30 percent of the sale price.

BOUGHT IN (BI): If there are no bids, or if bidding doesn’t reach the reserve, the lot is left unsold—or “bought in”—and remains the property of the owner.

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