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.

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

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

The seller-owner of the item offered for sale.

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

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.

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

The winning bid for a lot at auction, exclusive of the 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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