Terms and Words You Must Know

auction hammer

3D graphics image by Quince Creative

Would you like to start buying art during art auction but are terrified by the mass of unknown terms? We have prepared and collected for you the most important terms / words that you can meet at the auction.


Absentee Bid (Also called: written bid, commission bid, order bid) – A client’s instruction directing to bid on one or more lots up to the maximum amount that the client has specified for each lot.

Appraisal – A valuation for estate, tax or insurance purposes.

Auction – A public sale in which property or items of merchandise are sold to the highest bidder.

Auction Estimate (Also called: estimate price) – A preliminary estimate of the amount an item may sell for at auction.

Auctioneer – A person who conducts an auction.

Bid – An offer to buy property at a specific price.

Bidder – An individual or entity offering to purchase property at auction.

Buyer – The person who won a bid. The highest bidder acknowledged by the auctioneer.

Buyer’s Premium – A percentage of the final bid price that the buyer pays.

Catalogue – An illustrated record of property to be offered for sale in a particular auction. Catalogues are usually available in printed form or on web site.

Certificate – A document which confirm the provenience and the authorship of work

Commission – Charges paid by the seller.

Commission agreement – A document that sets out the conditions under which we issue your work for sale.

Condition Report – A condition report is a written and/or electronically filed record that details the condition of an art work. The report clearly records the physical condition of the painting and frame at that time.

Conditions of Sale/Conditions of Business – The terms that cover the buying and selling of property.

Consignment Agreement – A contract with the consignor to sell property. The consignment agreement includes terms and fees for services, such as insurance, shipping and illustration.

Dedicated auction – An auction of one collection or dedicated to one topic.

Emergency Bid (Also called: covering bid) – A pre-arranged absentee bid left by a telephone bidder if that bidder cannot be reached during the auction..

Estimate – A price range that reflects the opinion of specialists of the price expected at auction, excluding premium and taxes. Estimates are based on the property’s condition, rarity, quality, provenance and recent auction prices of comparable property.

Hammer Price – A final bid price, whether property is sold or unsold, announced by the auctioneer when the gavel falls. This price does not include the buyer’s premium.

Lot – An object or group of objects offered for sale as one piece of art work.

Online Bid – A bid via website, or on-line app.

Pass (Also called: return to owner, withdrawn, or bought in) – A situation when the bidding for a lot does not reach its reserve. The lot remains the property of the consignor.

Price Realised (Also called: Final Price) – A sold price, including the hammer price plus the buyer’s premium.

Provenance – An information concerning a lot’s current or prior ownership. A history of work that may affect a work’s value.

Registration – The process of providing bidder information: identification, billing name and address, contact details, credit reference in order to bid. At an auction, registered bidders receive a numbered bidding paddle for that sale.

Reserve – The minimum price the consignor is willing to accept and below which a lot will not be sold.

Seller – A person who sells an object

Starting Bid – The price at which the bidding starts.

Telephone Bid – Type of absente bid. A bid with an auction house’s staff member. He telephones a client to bid on his behalf and relays the client’s bids to the auctioneer during the bidding on those lots.

Thematic auction – An auction dedicated to one main theme.

Viewing (Also called: preview or exhibition) – An exhibitions held before an auction. Pre-auction viewings are open to the public.

The article is part of “Step by Step” series created in collaboration with Collector’s Zone/ Allegro.