# Finance:Auction

Short description: Process of offerings goods or services up for bid, and either selling to the highest bidder or buying from the lowest bidder

File:Autioneer.ogg An auction is usually a process of buying and selling goods or services by offering them up for bid, taking bids, and then selling the item to the highest bidder or buying the item from the lowest bidder. Some exceptions to this definition exist and are described in the section about different types. The branch of economic theory dealing with auction types and participants' behavior in auctions is called auction theory.

The open ascending price auction is arguably the most common form of auction in use throughout history.[1] Participants bid openly against one another, with each subsequent bid required to be higher than the previous bid.[2] An auctioneer may announce prices, bidders may call out their bids themselves or have a proxy call out a bid on their behalf, or bids may be submitted electronically with the highest current bid publicly displayed.[2]

Auctions were and are applied for trade in diverse contexts. These contexts are antiques, paintings, rare collectibles, expensive wines, commodities, livestock, radio spectrum, used cars, online advertising, even emission trading and many more.

## History

The word "auction" is derived from the Latin auctum, the supine of augeō, "I increase".[1] For most of history, auctions have been a relatively uncommon way to negotiate the exchange of goods and commodities. In practice, both haggling and sale by set-price have been significantly more common.[3] Indeed, before the 17th century only a few sporadic auctions were held.[4]

### Classical antiquity

Nonetheless, auctions have a long history, having been recorded as early as 500 BC.[5] According to Herodotus, in Babylon auctions of women for marriage were held annually. The auctions began with the woman the auctioneer considered to be the most beautiful and progressed to the least. It was considered illegal to allow a daughter to be sold outside of the auction method.[4] Attractive maidens were offered in a forward auction to determine the price to be paid by a swain, while in the case of maidens lacking attractivity a reverse auction was needed to determine the price to be paid to a swain.[6]

During the Roman Empire, after a military victory, Roman soldiers would often drive a spear into the ground around which the spoils of war were left, to be auctioned off. Later slaves, often captured as the "spoils of war", were auctioned in the Forum under the sign of the spear, with the proceeds of sale going towards the war effort.[4]

The Romans also used auctions to liquidate the assets of debtors whose property had been confiscated.[7] For example, Marcus Aurelius sold household furniture to pay off debts, the sales lasting for months.[8] One of the most significant historical auctions occurred in the year 193 AD when the entire Roman Empire was put on the auction block by the Praetorian Guard. On 28 March 193, the Praetorian Guard first killed emperor Pertinax, then offered the empire to the highest bidder. Didius Julianus outbid everyone else for the price of 6,250 drachmas per guard,[9][10][11] an act that initiated a brief civil war. Didius was then beheaded two months later when Septimius Severus conquered Rome.[7]

From the end of the Roman Empire to the 18th century, auctions lost favor in Europe,[7] while they had never been widespread in Asia.[4] In China, the personal belongings of deceased buddhist monks were sold at auction as early as seventh century AD.[6]

### Modern revival

A Peep at Christies (1796) – caricature of actress Elizabeth Farren and huntsman Lord Derby examining paintings at Christie's, by James Gillray
A late 19th Century auction at the Hotel Drouot, Paris (painting by Albert Bettannier).
Artemis, Ancient Greek marble sculpture. In 2007, a Roman-era bronze sculpture of "Artemis and the Stag" was sold at Sotheby's in New York for United States dollar 28.6 million, by far exceeding its estimates and at the time setting the new record as the most expensive sculpture as well as work from antiquity ever sold at auction.[12][13]
An auctioneer and assistants scan the crowd for bidders

The first mention of auction appeared, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, in 1595.[6] In some parts of England during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries auctions by candle began to be used for the sale of goods and leaseholds.[14] In a candle auction, the end of the auction was signaled by the expiration of a candle flame, which was intended to ensure that no one could know exactly when the auction would end and make a last-second bid. Sometimes, other unpredictable events, such as a footrace, were used in place of the expiration of a candle. This type of auction was first mentioned in 1641 in the records of the House of Lords.[15] The practice rapidly became popular, and in 1660 Samuel Pepys' diary recorded two occasions when the Admiralty sold surplus ships "by an inch of candle". Pepys also relates a hint from a highly successful bidder, who had observed that, just before expiring, a candle-wick always flares up slightly: on seeing this, he would shout his final – and winning – bid.

The London Gazette began reporting on the auctioning of artwork in the coffeehouses and taverns of London in the late 17th century. The first known auction house in the world was Stockholm Auction House, Sweden (Stockholms Auktionsverk), founded by Baron Claes Rålamb in 1674.[16][17] Sotheby's, currently the world's second-largest auction house,[16] was founded in London on 11 March 1744, when Samuel Baker presided over the disposal of "several hundred scarce and valuable" books from the library of an acquaintance. Christie's, now the world's largest auction house,[16] was founded by James Christie in 1766 in London[18] and published its first auction catalog in that year, although newspaper advertisements of Christie's sales dating from 1759 have been found.[19]

Other early auction houses that are still in operation include Göteborgs Auktionsverk (1681), Dorotheum (1707), Uppsala auktionskammare (1731), Mallams (1788), Bonhams (1793), Phillips de Pury & Company (1796), Freeman's (1805) and Lyon & Turnbull (1826).[20]

By the end of the 18th century, auctions of art works were commonly held in taverns and coffeehouses. These auctions were held daily, and auction catalogs were printed to announce available items. In some cases these catalogs were elaborate works of art themselves, containing considerable detail about the items being auctioned. At this time, Christie's established a reputation as a leading auction house, taking advantage of London's status as the major centre of the international art trade after the French Revolution . The Great Slave Auction took place in 1859 and is recorded as the largest single sale of enslaved people in U.S. history — 436 men, women and children.[21] During the American Civil War, goods seized by armies were sold at auction by the Colonel of the division. Thus some of today's auctioneers in the U.S. carry the unofficial title of "colonel".[8] Tobacco auctioneers in the southern United States in the late 19th century had a style that mixed traditions of 17th century England with chants of slaves from Africa.[22]

### Rise of internet

The development of the internet has led to a significant rise in the use of auctions as auctioneers can solicit bids via the internet from a wide range of buyers in a much wider range of commodities than was previously practical.[3] In the 1990s, Multi-attribute auction was invented to negotiate extensive conditions of construction and electricity contracts via auction.[23][24] Also in the 1990s, OnSale.com developed Yankee auction as its trademark.[25] In the early 2000, Brazilian auction was invented as a new type of auctions to trade gas by electronic auctions for Linde plc in Brazil .[26][27]

## Economic significance

In 2008, the US National Auctioneers Association reported that the gross revenue of the auction industry for that year was approximately $268.4 billion, with the fastest growing sectors being agricultural, machinery, and equipment auctions and residential real estate auctions.[28] The auctions with the largest revenue for the government are often spectrum auctions (typical revenue is estimated in billons of euros) and quota auctions, in 2019 Russia's crab quota was auctioned for 2 billion Euros.[29] Between 1999 and 2002, the British government auctioned off their gold reserves, raising approximately US$3.5 billion.[30]

### Other contexts

• Charity auctions – Used by nonprofits, higher education, and religious institutions as a method to raise funds for a specific mission or cause both through the act of bidding itself, and by encouraging participants to support the cause and make personal donations. Often, these auctions are linked with another charity event like a benefit concert.[109]
• Insurance policies – Auctions are held for second-hand endowment policies. The attraction is that someone else has already paid substantially to set up the policy in the first place, and one will be able (with the help of a financial calculator) to calculate its real worth and decide whether it is worth taking on. Lloyd's, the world's reinsurance market, runs auctions of syndicate capacity for the underwriting.[110]
• Private treaty sales – Occasionally, when looking at an auction catalog some of the items have been withdrawn. Usually, these goods have been sold by 'private treaty'. This means that the goods have already been sold off, usually to a trader or dealer on a private, behind-the-scenes basis before they have had a chance to be offered at the auction sale. These goods are rarely in single lots – photocopiers or fax machines would generally be sold in bulk lots.
• Environmental auctions, in which companies bid for licenses to avoid being required to decrease their environmental impact. These include auctions in emissions trading schemes.

## Bidding strategy

### By the bidders

An 18th century Chinese meiping porcelain vase. Porcelain has long been a staple at art sales. In 2005, a 14th-century Chinese porcelain piece was sold by Christie's for £16 million, or USUnited States dollar 28 million. It set a world auction record for any ceramic work of art.[111]

Katehakis and Puranam provided the first model[112] for the problem of optimal bidding for a firm that in each period procures items to meet a random demand by participating in a finite sequence of auctions. In this model an item valuation derives from the sale of the acquired items via their demand distribution, sale price, acquisition cost, salvage value and lost sales. They established monotonicity properties for the value function and the optimal dynamic bid policy. They also provided a model[113] for the case in which the buyer must acquire a fixed number of items either at a fixed buy-it-now price in the open market or by participating in a sequence of auctions. The objective of the buyer is to minimize his expected total cost for acquiring the fixed number of items.

Bid shading is placing a bid which is below the bidder's actual value for the item. Such a strategy risks losing the auction but has the possibility of winning at a low price. Bid shading can also be a strategy to avoid the winner's curse. Auction cancellation hunters bid minimal amounts on multiple auctions and expect them to be cancelled. If an auction is cancelled by the seller, they will claim for damages in the amount of the difference between the maximum bid at the time of the auction cancellation and the price of a replacement purchase of the offered item in the auction. Auction sniping is the practice of placing a bid at the last moment of the auction. Jump bidding is an aggressive tactic of increasing every bid by high amounts. Calor licitantis is also known as "auction fever" and describes the irrational behaviour of bidders at auctions. Suicide bidding is practise in reverse auctions, whereby a bidder submits a bid, which ends up in a loss for this bidder.

#### Collusion

Whenever bidders at an auction are aware of the identity of the other bidders there is a risk that they will form a "ring" or "pool" and thus manipulate the auction result, a practice known as collusion or more specially bid-rigging.[114][115][116] By agreeing to bid only against outsiders, never against members of the "ring", competition becomes weaker, which may dramatically affect the final price level. After the end of the official auction, an unofficial auction may take place among the "ring" members. The difference in price between the two auctions could then be split among the members. This form of a ring was used as a central plot device in the opening episode of the 1979 British television series The House of Caradus, 'For Love or Money', uncovered by Helena Caradus on her return from Paris.

In UK, this auction practice is illegal.[117] It jeopardises competition on the auction and can demotivate other bidders from participating. It robs the seller of the true value of his good and reduces the auctioneer’s commission.

Beyond explicit collusion, a tacit coordination of bidders to keep bids low is at least theoretically possible. In case of spectrum auctions, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) experimented with precautions restricting visibility of bids, limiting the number of bids, click-box bidding and anonymous bidding in order prevent bidders from signalling bidding information by embedding it into digits of the bids.[118] Actions within the auction mechanism serve as a comminication channel for collusive behavior, once no other channels are legal.

### By the auctioneer

#### Chandelier or rafter bidding

This is the practice, especially by high-end art auctioneers,[119] of raising false bids at crucial times in the bidding in order to create the appearance of greater demand or to extend bidding momentum for a work on offer. To call out these nonexistent bids auctioneers might fix their gaze at a point in the auction room that is difficult for the audience to pin down.[120] The practice is frowned upon in the industry.[120] In the United States, chandelier bidding is not illegal. In fact, an auctioneer may bid up the price of an item to the reserve price, which is a threshold below which the consignor may refuse to sell the item. However, the auction house is required to disclose this information.

In the United Kingdom this practice is legal on property auctions up to but not including the reserve price, and is also known as off-the-wall bidding.[121]

#### Collusion involving auctioneer

A ring can also be used to increase the price of an auction lot, in which the owner of the object being auctioned may increase competition by taking part in the bidding him or herself, but drop out of the bidding just before the final bid. This form of a ring was used as a central plot device in an episode of the British television series Lovejoy (series 4, episode 3), in which the price of a watercolour by the (fictional) Jessie Webb is inflated so that others by the same artist could be sold for more than their purchase price. In an English auction, a dummy bid is a bid made by a dummy bidder acting in collusion with the auctioneer or vendor, designed to deceive genuine bidders into paying more. In a first-price auction, a dummy bid is an unfavourable bid designed so as not to become the winning bid. (The bidder does not want to win this auction, but he or she wants to make sure to be invited to the next auction).

In Britain and many other countries, rings and other forms of bidding on one's own object are illegal. In Australia, a dummy bid or also a shill is a criminal offence, but a vendor bid or a co-owner bid below the reserve price is permitted if clearly declared as such by the auctioneer. These are all official legal terms in Australia but may have other meanings elsewhere. A co-owner is one of two or several owners (who disagree among themselves). In Sweden and many other countries, there are no legal restrictions, but it will severely hurt the reputation of an auction house that knowingly permits any other bids except genuine bids. If the reserve is not reached this should be clearly declared. In South Africa auctioneers can use their staff or any bidder to raise the price as long as it's disclosed before the auction sale. Rael Levitt's companies The Auction Alliance controversy focused on vendor bidding and led to its downfall in 2012.[122][123]

#### Suggested opening bid (SOB)

There will usually be an estimate of what price the lot will fetch. In an ascending open auction it is considered important to get at least a 50-percent increase in the bids from start to finish. To accomplish this, the auctioneer must start the auction by announcing a suggested opening bid (SOB) that is low enough to be immediately accepted by one of the bidders.[124] Once there is an opening bid, there will quickly be several other, higher bids submitted. Experienced auctioneers will often select an SOB that is about 45 percent of the (lowest) estimate. Thus there is a certain margin of safety to ensure that there will indeed be a lively auction with many bids submitted. Several observations indicate that the lower the SOB, the higher the final winning bid. This is due to the increase in the number of bidders attracted by the low SOB.

A chi-squared distribution shows many low bids but few high bids. Bids "show up together"; without several low bids there will not be any high bids.

Another approach to choosing an SOB: The auctioneer may achieve good success by asking the expected final sales price for the item, as this method suggests to the potential buyers the item's particular value. For instance, say an auctioneer is about to sell a $1,000 car at a sale. Instead of asking$100, hoping to entice wide interest (for who wouldn't want a $1,000 car for$100?), the auctioneer may suggest an opening bid of $1,000; although the first bidder may begin bidding at a mere$100, the final bid may more likely approach $1,000. ## Terminology Duo Yun Xuan auction house in Malacca, Malaysia • Absentee bids – This is when a prospective buyer places a bid on an item without attending the sale. This is sometimes referred to instead as a commission bid because the auctioneer is effectively commissioned to enter bids on the potentiual buyer's behalf. The bid is submitted prior to the auction by whatever means the auctioneer has stipulated.[125] • Appraisal – an estimate of an item's worth, usually performed by an expert in that particular field.[126] • Auction block – a raised platform on which the auctioneer shows the items to be auctioned; can also be slang for the auction itself. • Auction chant – a rhythmic repetition of numbers and "filler words" spoken by an auctioneer in the process of conducting an auction. • Auction fever – an emotional state elicited in the course of one or more auctions that causes a bidder to deviate from an initially chosen bidding strategy.[127][128] • Auction house – the company operating the auction (i.e., establishing the date and time of the auction, the auction rules, determining which items are to be included in the auction, registering bidders, taking payments, and delivering the goods to the winning bidders). • Auctioneer – the person conducting the actual auction. They announce the rules of the auction and the items being auctioned, call and acknowledging bids made, and announce the winner. • The auctioneer can sometimes just be the owner of the business, in this case they may hire a bid caller/s to announce the rules and call bids. • The auctioneer may operate his/her own auction house (and thus perform the duties of both auctioneer and auction house), and/or work for another house. • Auctioneers are frequently regulated by governmental entities, and in those jurisdictions must meet certain criteria to be licensed (be of a certain age, have no disqualifying criminal record, attend auction school, pass an examination, and pay a licensing fee). • Auctioneers may or may not (depending on the laws of the jurisdiction and/or the policies of the auction house) bid for their own account, or if they do, must disclose this to bidders at the auction; similar rules may apply for employees of the auctioneer or the auction house. • Bidding – the act of participating in an auction by offering to purchase an item for sale. • Bid Construction Problem (BCP) – Also known as the Bid Generation Problem (BGP) is a NP-Hard combinatorial problem addressed and solved by the bidder to determine the bid packages to bid on and their corresponding bidding prices.[129][130] • Buyer's premium – a fee paid by the buyer to the auction house; it is typically calculated as a percentage of the winning bid and added to it. Depending on the jurisdiction the buyer's premium, in addition to the sales price, may be subject to VAT or sales tax. • Buyout price – A price that, if accepted by a bidder, immediately ends the auction and awards the item to him/her (an example is eBay's "Buy It Now" feature). • Choice – a form of bidding whereby a number of identical or similar items are bid at a single price for each item • Clearance rate – The percentage of items that sell over the course of the auction. • Commission – a fee paid by a consignor/seller to the auction house; it is typically calculated as a percentage of the winning bid and deducted from the gross proceeds due to the consignor/seller. • Consignee and consignor – as pertaining to auctions, the consignor (also called the seller, and in some contexts the vendor) is the person owning the item to be auctioned or the owner's representative,[120] while the consignee is the auction house. The consignor maintains title until such time that an item is purchased by a bidder and the bidder pays the auction house. • Dummy bid (a/k/a "ghost bid") – a false bid, made by someone in collusion with the seller or auctioneer, designed to create a sense of increased interest in the item (and, thus, increased bids). • Dynamic closing – a mechanism used to prevent auction sniping, by which the closing time is extended for a small period to allow other bidders to increase their bids. • eBidding – electronic bidding, whereby a person may make a bid without being physically present at an auction (or where the entire auction is taking place on the Internet). • Earnest money deposit (a/k/a "caution money deposit" or "registration deposit") – a payment that must be made by prospective bidders ahead of time in order to participate in an auction. • The purpose of this deposit is to deter non-serious bidders from attending the auction; by requiring the deposit, only bidders with a genuine interest in the items being sold will participate. • This type of deposit is most often used in auctions involving high-value goods (such as real estate). • The winning bidder has his/her earnest money applied toward the final selling price; the non-winners have theirs refunded to them. • Escrow – an arrangement in which the winning bidder pays the amount of his/her bid to a third party, who in turn releases the funds to the seller under agreed-upon terms. • Hammer price – the nominal price at which a lot is sold; the winner is responsible for paying any additional fees and taxes on top of this amount • Hammer used in auctions. Increment – a minimum amount by which a new bid must exceed the previous bid. An auctioneer may decrease the increment when it appears that bidding on an item may stop, so as to get a higher hammer price. Alternatively, a participant may offer a bid at a smaller increment, which the auctioneer has the discretion to accept or reject. • Lot – either a single item being sold, or a group of items[120] (which may or may not be similar or identical, such as a "job lot" of manufactured goods) that are bid on as one unit. • If the lot is for a group of items, the price paid is for the entire lot and the winning bidder must take all the items sold. • Variants on a group lot bid include "choice" and "times the money" (see definitions for each). • Example: An auction has five bath fragrance gift baskets where bidding is "lot", and the hammer price is US$5. The winner must pay $5 (as the price is for the whole lot) and must take all five baskets. • Maiden bid – A single bid which wins the lot being offered for sale, with no otehr bids made. • Minimum bid – The smallest opening bid that will be accepted. • A minimum bid can be as little as US$0.01 (one cent) depending on the auction.
• If no one bids at the initial minimum bid, the auctioneer may lower the minimum bid so as to create interest in the item.
• The minimum bid differs from a reserve price (see definition), in that the auctioneer sets the minimum bid, while the seller sets the reserve price (if desired).
• "New money" – a new bidder, joining bidding for an item after others have bid against each other.
• No reserve auction (a/k/a "absolute auction") – an auction in which there is no minimum acceptable price; so long as the winning bid is at least the minimum bid, the seller must honor the sale.
• Outbid (also spelled "out-bid" or "out bid") – to bid higher than another bidder.
• Opening bid – the first bid placed on a particular lot. The opening bid must be at least the minimum bid, but may be higher (e.g., a bidder may shout out a considerably larger bid than minimum, to discourage other bidders from bidding).
• Paddle – a numbered instrument used to place a bid[120]
• Protecting a market – when a dealer places a bid on behalf of an artist he or she represents or otherwise has a financial interest in ensuring a high price. Artists represented by major galleries typically expect this kind of protection from their dealers.[120]
• Proxy bid (a/k/a "absentee bid") – a bid placed by an authorized representative of a bidder who is not physically present at the auction.
• Proxy bids are common in auctions of high-end items, such as art sales (where the proxy represents either a private bidder who does not want to be disclosed to the public, or a museum bidding on a particular item for its collection).
• If the proxy is outbid on an item during the auction, the proxy (depending on the instructions of the bidder) may either increase the bid (up to a set amount established by the bidder) or be required to drop out of the bidding for that item.
• A proxy may also be limited by the bidder in the total amount to spend on items in a multi-item auction.
• Relisting – re-selling an item that has already been sold at auction, but where the buyer did not take possession of the item (for example, in a real estate auction, the buyer did not provide payment by the closing date).
• Reserve price – A minimum acceptable price established by the seller prior to the auction, which may or may not be disclosed to the bidders.[120]
• If the winning bid is below the reserve price, the seller has the right to reject the bid and withdraw the item or items being auctioned.
• The reserve price differs from a minimum bid (see definition), in that the seller sets the reserve price (if desired), while the auctioneer sets the minimum bid.
• Sealed bid – a submitted bid whose value is unknown to competitors.
• Sniping – the act of placing a bid just before the end of a timed auction, thus giving other bidders no time to enter new bids.
• Soft Close – When someone places a bid in the last set amount of minutes and the auction automatically extends a set period of time. Soft close prevents sniping.
• Specialist – on-staff trained professionals, often specilaising in specific objects (for example, porcelain) who put together the auction[120]
• The "three Ds" death, divorce, or debt – sometimes a reason for an item to be sold at an auction[120]
• Vendor bid – a bid by the person selling the item. The bid is sometimes a dummy bid (see definition) but not always.
• White Glove Sale – an auction in which every single lot is sold[120]

## JEL classification

The Journal of Economic Literature (JEL) classification code for auctions is D44.[131]

## Notes

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