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Art Auction Terminology

Mukulika Mukherjee
Ever been to an art auction or heard someone speak about one? Well, then you probably came across certain terms you had never heard of before. Here, we will help you understand the basic terms and more. Just read on...
If you know anybody who is a connoisseur of art or simply an art lover, then you must be having a basic idea of what an art auction is all about. People who love to buy works of art by famous artists, do so at art auctions.
The works of art can be paintings, sculptures, photographs, handicrafts and artistic jewelry. In an art auction, there is no price tag on the items put up for sale. Everyone interested in buying a work of art, has to quote the maximum amount that he/she is ready to pay for it.
At the end of the auction, one who has quoted the highest amount, gets the item. Sounds interesting? Well, you too can go ahead and be a part of an art auction. Just having a look at the art auction terminology discussed here, will help you in your endeavor.

Terms Associated With Art Auction

Here's a list of common art auction terms along with their meanings.

Auction Coordinator

The auction coordinator is the person who is in-charge of all the administrative tasks concerning the auction.

Active Listing

The term active listing refers to the list of products that are currently up for bidding.


It is the process of arriving at the value of a work of art after taking several factors into consideration. The appraisal of art is done by professionals.

Auction Estimate

The auction estimate is the estimated price that a particular work of art would fetch at an auction. It is arrived at after taking into consideration the prices fetched by similar works or previous works by the same artist. The price mentioned in the catalogs is, more often than not, the auction estimate and is determined by the auction house.


The term authorship indicates the name of the person who is to be credited for the work of art. In other words, in an art auction catalog, this term indicates the name of the artist.

Auction ID

This term is applicable only for art auctions online. Every work of art that is put up for auctioning, is identified with a unique number referred to as its auction ID.


A bid is the amount of money that a person offers to pay for a particular piece of art.


It is the purchasing of a particular work of art by the person who has offered the highest bid. The person who buys the work of art is termed as the buyer.


The catalog/catalogue refers to the list of all the items that are to be put up for the auction. It enlists the basic information that a prospective buyer might want to know about a particular piece before placing his bid, including the authorship, title, the medium used, date, location, a brief description about the piece and the auction estimate.

Condition Report

The condition report states the current condition of the work of art in question. It mentions if there is any damage or defect and the nature of damage. The purpose of the condition report is to provide prospective buyers with complete knowledge of the product they are bidding for.


The commission is nothing but the additional amount that the auction house charges the buyer who purchases the art work. The auction estimate is exclusive of the commission.

Dummy Bid

A bid that is made for the sole purpose of increasing the bid amount is termed as a dummy bid. Made by dummy bidders who have no intention of purchasing the product, a dummy bid is one of the strategies employed by art auction houses to increase the bid amounts offered by legitimate bidders.


The difference in amount between two consecutive bids, is termed as the increment. For example, if one bidder quotes $250 and the next one quotes $300, then the increment, in this case, is $50.


A 'lot' is defined as a group of items that are to be sold together in an auction. The items in a lot are assigned a single lot number in the auction catalog.

Proxy Bid

If anyone who is not present at the auction venue bids for an item, it is termed as a proxy bid and the bidder is called an absentee bidder. Such a bidder either informs the auction house beforehand of the maximum amount he is willing to pay for the piece of art or else, he has somebody else bidding for him.

Price List

The final price of each product or product lot is recorded at the end of the auction process and is made into a list, termed as the price list.

Price Realized

The total amount that the buyer pays for a work of art, including the taxes and commission, is referred to as the 'price realized'.

Reserve Price

The reserve price is the minimum amount for which the product can be sold. It is decided by the seller or the creator of the work of art.

Retract Bid

If a bid is withdrawn by the bidder, it is termed as a retract bid. A bid can be withdrawn as per the withdrawal process of the auction house.

Starting Price

It is the minimum amount you can bid for, in order to purchase the product. It is decided by the auction house itself if the reserve price has not been mentioned for the product.
Once you are familiar with these terms, you can easily try your hands at bidding for art pieces you love. Who knows, you might grab a good deal!