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Auction Process A to Z

What is an auction?

An auction is a process of buying and selling goods by offering them up for bid, taking bids and then selling the item to the highest bidder.

Boston Harbor Auctions will auction antiques, collectibles and fascinating pieces that hold the opportunity for viewing a huge array of items sometimes only seen in museums.

When a date for an auction is set, inventory is cataloged and photographed so that we are able to bring to interested bidders a list of items for sale on that date. The listing of items is referred to as a catalog and the items in that catalog are referred to as "lots". Each lot is identified by a specific lot number. See Auction Jargon for more information. 

Once the catalog of items is complete, we list the catalog in several ways to bring the information of what's for sale at our auction to the public. The catalog can be viewed online, or via a .pdf catalog. We also schedule preview times listed here for the public to personally view and handle the objects they might consider buying at auction. 

After you have decided to bid at our auction, it's important to familiarize yourself with State laws and Boston Harbor Auctions' house rules as listed in the Terms and Conditions of Sale. 

On the date of the auction, bidders who attend the auction can register and receive their bidder number. A driver's license is required to register for our antique auctions. 

The time the auction begins is always pre-determined. However, an auction ends is when it ends; after the very last lot is sold. People often ask how long an auction takes. We try to figure that our auctioneer can accomplish 60-100 lots per hour. Using this formula can help you determine when the auction will finish and when we might call you for a phone bid

When an item comes up to the block for auction, the auctioneer will announce the opening bid he has chosen for the item to be sold. He/she uses the presale estimates and the reserve as a guide to engage the interest of bidders. 

If you have registered and have a bidder number in hand, you are able to bid. If you would like to place a bid for the price the auctioneer is asking, raise your paddle number so that he/she will see it. If he/she does not see you, your bid will not get recorded. If there are many bidders at once, the bid goes to the bidder who the auctioneer sees or hears first. When the bids begin to slow and the item is ready to be sold, the auctioneer will clearly say "SOLD!" followed by the hammer price and the bidder number of the registrant who was successful in bidding on that lot. If it's you, then congratulations! If it's not you, do not be discouraged. The bidding process is fun and fair. You can always try again. 

The auction ends when the last lot is sold. We try to advance at a pace of 60-100 lots an hour. When the auction is over and you are ready to check out, revisit the registration table to receive a copy of your invoice and make your payment. There will be staff members available to ready your items for sale or if you need to schedule shipping or later pick up, you may do so at the registration table. 

Advice to Bidders

  • Carefully read the Conditions of Sale.

  • Pre-sale estimates are provided by the auctioneers for the convenience of our customers. They are not meant to be taken as a guide to the value of an item, but as a guide to its expected selling price. Estimates are prepared well in advance of a sale and are subject to revision.

  •  Carefully examine any item that you might consider bidding on for any variation from the catalog description. If you are unfamiliar with auction procedure or terminology or would like clarification of a catalog description, please ask for assistance from our staff members.

  • A buyer’s premium will be added to the hammer price of all property sold, to be paid as part of the purchase price. The buyer’s premium will be shown in the conditions of sale of every auction.

  •  The auctioneer reserves the right to refuse to issue, or to revoke, bidding credentials, or to reject any bid, if deemed necessary and proper in its sole discretion, for the conduct of the auction process, and to insure fairness to consignors and other bidders.

  • If you have questions, ask!

Suggested Opening Bid

An estimate of a lot is placed with regard to what price the lot will likely 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 that is low enough to be immediately accepted by one of the bidders. Once there is an opening bid, there will quickly be several other, higher bids submitted. Experienced auctioneers will often select a suggested opening bid 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 suggested opening bid, the higher the final winning bid. This is due to the increase in the number of bidders attracted by the low suggested opening bid. When 50 bidders compete, the winning bid will be about twice as high as when only two bidders compete. The suggested opening bid should not be regarded as the reserve or selling price.

Bidding Increments

BHA predetermines the bid increments with the auctioneer prior to sale. Generally the auctioneer adheres to these increments with each lot on the block. On any given lot and not so regularly, bid increments can change, however, especially if another bidder offers a bid at a fraction of the asking price. It is up to the auctioneer to accept their bid.

$0-$100 = $10
$101-$500 = $25
$501-$1,000 = $50
$1,050-$3,000 = $100
$3,100-$5,000 = $250
$5,250-$10,000 = $500
$10,500-$50,000 = $1,000
$51000-$100,000 = $5,000
$105,000-$150,000 = $10,000
$160,000-up = Auctioneer’s Discretion