Buy & Sell at Sotheby's

1. Create your account

In order to bid in an auction you’ll first need to set up an account. Follow our step-by-step account creation guide to assist you in this process.

What is needed to bid at auction?

Does Sotheby’s accept bids from organizations or only individuals?

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2. Register for auction

For a live auction, simply choose any auction and click “Register to bid” before the auction begins to receive your paddle number. You will then select how you would like to participate in the auction: in-person, over the phone, online, or by leaving absentee bids. Please note that for certain auctions, additional financial verification is required at least 24 hours before the sale.

For an online-only auction, there is no separate registration process. Placing a bid automatically registers you for that auction.

How can I bid in an auction?

Can I see the work in person before a sale?

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3. Place your bids

Live auctions

Bidding online

Before the live portion of the auction, you may place maximum bids, which will either be executed immediately (Advance bids) or by the auctioneer during the live auction (Absentee bids).

During the live auction, enter the online auction room and place your bid once the auctioneer has opened the lot. You can follow the bidding activity either by watching the page or by listening to the auctioneer.

Bidding in person

You will receive your paddle when checking in at the registration desk, and indicate to the auctioneer when you wish to place bids.

Bidding over the phone

You will indicate your desired lots ahead of time, and a Sotheby’s representative will call you the day of the auction to execute bids on your behalf.

Online-only auctions

Once an auction is open for bidding, place your maximum bid on each of your desired lots. The platform will automatically place incremental bids on your behalf up to your maximum amount.

Lots close in one minute increments and will be extended by two minutes if a bid is placed within the final minute before the lot’s scheduled closing time. Lots may extend for up to two hours to accommodate competitive bidding.

Can I cancel a bid?

What is a premium lot?

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4. Payment

Your final amount due will include the hammer price, buyer’s premium, overhead premium, and local taxes. In certain locations, a re-sale royalty will be collected.
Click here to view our Buyer's Premium rates.
Click here to read a full explanation of our fee structure.

If you are attending, the auction in person, you may pay for your items immediately following the auction. Otherwise, our Post-Sales Service team will send you an invoice and shipping quote.

What Payment Methods are accepted?

Can a third party pay for my purchase on my behalf?

Does Sotheby’s offer acquisition financing?

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5. Shipment

Sotheby’s Post-sale services can arrange expert and insured shipping and convenient delivery of your property.

How long does it take to ship an item?

Can I arrange my own carrier or collect purchases in person?

How long after the sale is closed can I expect to arrange shipment details?

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1. Discover What Your Property Is Worth

Wonder how much your art or object might be worth and how to sell it? Our specialists have the knowledge and expertise to provide you with an accurate valuation. Simply click here, select "Start Selling," follow the steps, and submit your item. Our specialists will review your submission at no cost and provide preliminary estimates for items that can be included in one of our sales channels in 15 to 20 days.

How do I sell with Sotheby’s?

What happens after I submit my item?

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2. Estimates and Appraisals

Our specialists evaluate property based on its characteristics such as the artist or maker, country of origin, provenance, date of execution, materials, dimensions, rarity, subject matter or type, and condition. We also consider comparable sales and past performance of works by the same and similar artists.

Is it free to request an estimate online?

May I request an estimate if I’m not ready to sell my item?

How are estimates determined?

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3. Pricing and Payment

The seller’s contract sets the reserve price and the seller’s commission. For sold lots, Sotheby’s will send payment within 45 days from the sale date, provided we are in receipt of the buyer’s payment. Your payment will be based on the hammer price less a commission and any agreed-upon expenses. If bidding on your item fails to reach the reserve price, we will not sell the piece at auction. Together, we will determine the best course of action, whether this is taking back your work, offering it in a later auction or through our private sales department.

What are Sotheby’s consignment terms?

When will I receive the proceeds for the sale of my item?

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4. Shipping and Insurance

Our staff can help arrange to have your property delivered to the Sotheby's location where it will be offered at auction. As the consignor, you are responsible for packing, shipping and insurance charges.

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Absentee Bid

A method of bidding for those who cannot or do not wish to attend an auction. Absentee bids are also called “written,” “commission” or “order” bids and may be placed by filling out and submitting an Absentee Bid Form, or online.

Advance bid

A maximum bid placed ahead of the auction which will be executed on your behalf in response to any other bids placed on the lot. If your maximum bid is below the reserve, responsive bids may be placed by Sotheby’s on behalf of the seller up to the amount of the reserve ahead of the live auction. Upon the start of the live auction, if your maximum bid has not yet been met, the auctioneer will execute the bid on your behalf at the lowest price possible and never for more than the maximum bid amount you indicate.


A formal evaluation of the fair market and/or insurance value of a given property. Fair market value represents what Sotheby’s believes an item would bring at auction. Insurance value reflects what we believe it would cost to replace an item. Our Valuations department conducts appraisals by comparing your piece with similar, recently sold works, but no appraisal is definitive. You do not need a formal written appraisal in order to obtain a presale auction estimate.

Artist Resale Right (or Droit de Suite)

According to the European Union’s Artist’s Resale Right Directive, which has been adopted by the United Kingdom, living artists and artists who died within 70 years prior to the date of the sale are entitled to receive a resale royalty each time their art work is sold by an art market professional in the European Union or United Kingdom, subject to certain conditions. Sotheby’s will collect the resale royalty due to the artists or their estates from buyers of lots with a hammer price (excluding buyer’s premium and excluding VAT) in excess of €1000. Any purchaser of a lot to which Artist’s Resale Right applies will be charged the amount of the resale royalty, which will be added to the invoice. For more information on rates, view the Artist Resale Right Chart.

As Is

Sotheby’s offers all property for sale at auction “as is,” meaning that the property is sold with all existing faults and imperfections. We encourage potential buyers to inspect each item carefully before bidding.


A trained professional who presides over the auction, initiating the sale of a lot by describing the item and starting the bidding. Once the first bid is made, others may offer higher bids. Bidders may be present in the saleroom, on the phone or online. Auctioneers also place bids on behalf of absentee bidders and finally determine when the highest bid has been made. If a work sells, the auctioneer announces, “sold.” If the item does not meet its reserve or there are no bidders, the auctioneer signifies this with a “pass.”



The amount a prospective buyer signals the auctioneer he/she would pay to buy the lot during bidding.

Bid Increment

The amount by which the auctioneer increases the bidding. In general, the auctioneer will request bids of about 10% higher than the previous bid. For instance, if the bidding opens at $5000, subsequent bids of $5500, $6000, $6500, etc. would follow. The figure is generally rounded up or down at the auctioneer's discretion.


If there are no bids on a lot, or if bidding does not reach the reserve price, the lot is “bought in,” meaning it is left unsold and remains the property of the owner.

Buyer’s Premium

The amount above the hammer price that is paid as part of the total purchase price. See Sotheby's Buyer's Premium rates here.



Factual information about a lot offered for sale, such as the name of the artist or maker, a detailed description of the object, the year of its creation, its provenance (history of its ownership), major exhibitions in which it has appeared and publications in which it has been documented. This information is published in the auction catalogue, in both the print and online editions.

Condition Report

A written description of the condition of a work, prepared by Sotheby’s specialists prior to an auction.

Conditions of Business

This important text describes the terms under which Sotheby’s and the consignor agree to sell a lot to the purchaser. It is important to read the conditions carefully before bidding.


The owner who is transferring property to Sotheby’s to act as agent on his or her behalf for sale.



The consignor of a lot is sometimes identified through a designation line, which appears at the beginning of a catalogue entry. The designation, which appears at the discretion of the consignor, may identify the current owner by name or through a descriptive title, such as “Property of a

Distinguished European Collector.”



Each lot is given a low and high estimate, representing the opinion of Sotheby’s experts about the range in which the lot might sell at auction. Estimates are based on the examination of an item and recent auction records of comparable pieces. Published in our online and printed catalogue, an estimate provides prospective buyers with an important preliminary guide to value and is generally the basis for establishing the reserve price.

Exhibition History

A listing of museum or gallery exhibitions in which a given lot has appeared. Inclusion in important exhibitions may impact the value of the object.


Another term for a Sotheby’s specialist who is an expert in specific fields of collecting and belongs to a department. Sotheby’s specialists are often scholars with distinguished careers; many of them publish extensively in their field, lecture widely, teach or curate international exhibitions.


Fair Market Value

A term frequently used by appraisers referring to their judgment and opinion about an object’s likely sale price if offered by a willing seller to a willing buyer. Since the auction process is open to all bidders, a sale at auction is considered to be a measure of Fair Market Value.

Fair Warning

A warning sometimes given by the auctioneer that the hammer is about to come down on a lot. The fair warning offers one last chance to increase the bidding. If there are no subsequent bids, the auctioneer’s hammer falls and the sale is completed.



Another name for the auctioneer’s hammer used to close the bidding.


In rare cases, Sotheby’s will guarantee to pay a consignor for a lot, regardless of whether the bidding at auction reaches the reserve price. The guarantee may be provided by Sotheby’s, by a third party or jointly by Sotheby’s and a third party. Third parties providing all or part of a guarantee benefit financially if a guaranteed lot is sold successfully and may incur a loss if the sale is not successful.

Guarantee Line

Set in bold type in the auction catalogue, the Guarantee Line indicates key information such as the authenticity of a work, the name of the artist or maker and the origin of the object.


Hammer Price

The winning bid for a lot at auction. It is the price upon which the auctioneer’s hammer falls, determining the sale price, but does not include the buyer's premium.


Knocked Down

An auction house term for the hammer coming down and ending the bidding, as in, “The lot was knocked down at $1 million.”



An individual object or group of objects offered for sale at auction as a single unit.

Lot Symbols

A small symbol found in the catalogue such as a triangle, square, or circle, listed next to the estimates. The symbol may indicate a note such as a guarantee or lack of reserve.


Maximum Bid

A maximum bid is the highest amount you would like to bid for a lot. It will be executed by Sotheby’s at the lowest price possible, and never for more than the maximum bid amount you indicate. Please note that if two clients enter the same maximum bid, the bid which was entered first will have priority.


Overhead Premium

This is a fee also payable by auction buyers in our global wine and spirits sales. It will be charged at 1% of the hammer price, plus any applicable local taxes. It covers overhead costs relating to our facilities, property handling and other administrative expenses.



An object displaying the number assigned to a bidder when he or she registers at the auction. To place a bid, simply raise your paddle until the auctioneer acknowledges you. If you win the auction, your paddle number is recorded alongside your bid. To pay for your purchase, you will need to bring your paddle to the Payments counter.


Terms used by the auctioneer when an item fails to reach its reserve at auction.


Every work that goes to auction is professionally photographed by Sotheby’s for documentary and promotional purposes. Photographs appear in our online and print catalogues, and are an important way for buyers to identify lots that they wish to acquire.

Premium Lot

A lot that because of its value, significance, or other factors determined by Sotheby’s, requires additional vetting of clients before they can bid. Prospective bidders are asked to contact the relevant Bids Department in advance of the sale to register their interest and may be asked to provide photo ID or financial references. If approved, a paddle will be issued that denotes the ability to bid on the Premium Lot.

Presale Exhibition

With specialists on-hand to answer all questions, Sotheby’s puts every lot from its sales on public display in the days before an auction. Exhibitions are free and open to the public and generally close at 1 pm the day before the auction. Please see our Auctions section for dates, times and



An important part of the authentication process, provenance establishes the chain of ownership back (if possible) to the date an item was created. Provenance can significantly impact the value of an object.


Quick Bid

After placing an initial bid on your desired lot, you will be presented with the option to place a ‘Quick Bid’. This is a faster way to increase your bid to the next increment. This can be executed on the Sotheby’s app by holding down and swiping the ‘Quick Bid’ button all the way to the right of the screen, or by clicking the ‘Quick Bid’ button and confirming your bid increase on Upon completion, your bid will be placed. ‘Quick Bid’ is only available during the ‘advance bidding’ portion of a live auction. Quick Bid is available for Online Only and Advance Bidding sales only.


Reserve or Reserve Price

Never formally disclosed, the reserve price is the confidential minimum price agreed upon between the consignor and Sotheby’s. Reserves must be set at or below the low estimate, and if bidding ends before the reserve is reached, the property will not be sold.


Immediately following every auction, results are posted online in the currency of the auction location. Customarily, results include the Hammer Price plus the Buyer’s Premium and, if applicable, Overhead Premium.


Sale Number

Every auction at Sotheby’s is given a unique number to distinguish it from previous and subsequent sales of similar properties. The initial letter of the sale number stands for the auction location: “L” stands for London, “N” stands for New York, etc. The sale number appears in every e-catalogue and on the cover of print catalogues, among other places.

Seller’s Commission

A commission paid by the consignor to Sotheby’s, which is deducted from the hammer price. See Sotheby's Seller's Commission rates here.


An expert in a specific field of collecting who belongs to a department. Sotheby’s specialists are often scholars with distinguished careers; many of them publish extensively in their field, lecture widely, teach or curate international exhibitions.

Starting Bids

Each lot has a starting bid, which is the lowest possible bid you can place on a lot. You may bid at or above the starting bid (see above for how to place a Maximum Bid). Please note that leaving a bid at the starting bid may not necessarily mean you have met the reserve, though you will be notified if you are the leading bidder or have been outbid. Please note that Sotheby’s reserves the right to lower the starting bid prior to the start of the live auction.


Telephone Bidding

Many buyers prefer to bid via phone, using a Sotheby’s representative who is present at the auction to relay bids to the auctioneer on their behalf.



A detailed description and current value of property prepared by Sotheby’s staff. Valuations, which differ from auction estimates, are used for a variety of needs, including charitable contribution, collateral loans, estate taxes, estate planning and insurance.