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.
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.
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.
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.
Sotheby’s online bidding service, called BIDnow, is available for all auctions. Through BIDnow, auctions are broadcast on sothebys.com, and clients who have registered for a paddle may place bids as if they were in the room.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Overhead Premium, a fee payable by all auction buyers in our global salesrooms and online sales, which will be charged at 1% of the hammer price plus any applicable local taxes, is an allocation of the overhead costs relating to our facilities, property handling and other administrative expenses. This fee and our Buyer’s Premium rates exclude local taxes and any applicable artist’s resale right.
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.
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.
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 overhead premium.
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.
A commission paid by the consignor to Sotheby’s, which is deducted from the hammer price. For most auctions, including those in our Fine Arts division, Sotheby’s standard seller’s commission is 10% of the hammer price.
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.
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.