Understanding Auction Lingo and Terms


Buying at auction is easier if you understand the terms and how the process works. Some terms are used for all types of auctions; others are prevalent only in the online auction ring. Below (in alphabetical order) is a list of common auction phrases.

General Auction Terms

Absentee bidding– a form of bidding where a potential buyer submits a bid orally, by phone, or in written form before the auction. The auctioneer or clerk will then execute the bid for the absent bidder.

As is– just what it sounds like. The auctioneer and seller accept no responsibility for an item’s condition; it’s the buyer’s responsibility to attend the preview to assess the piece before bidding.

Buy in or buy back– when bidding for an item does not meet reserve; it remains the property of the seller. The auctioneer may say “pass” when this occurs.

Buyer’s premium– the auctioneer’s commission; this can be up to 30%, and is added to the hammer price. In some cases, the fee is negotiable; it doesn’t hurt to ask!

Estimate– a listed range that reflects the price an item is likely to bring at auction. This is based on a variety of factors, including the item’s condition, rarity, and quality, as well as recent sales of similar items.

Hammer price– the final bid price, announced by the auctioneer as the gavel is brought down, whether the item has sold or not.

Lot– a group of objects offered for sale as one unit; an example of this would be an entire dining room set sold together, rather than as individual pieces.

Reserve– the minimum price the seller is willing to accept.

Terms and conditions– the legal provisions governing the auction. Terms and conditions include warranties, what types of payment are accepted, and how and when purchased items must be removed from the auction facility. It’s important to read and understand these documents before the auction.

Online Auction Lingo: Decoded!

While many terms are the same whether you attend an auction or bid online, there are a number of abbreviations and descriptions unique to online venues.

As is – no guarantees or warranties; sellers of as-is items usually don’t accept returns or refunds (unless the item is damaged or lost by the shipping company).

F – Fair; worn or slightly damaged, but still functional.

G – Good; minor cosmetic flaws that don’t affect the piece’s function.

HTF – Hard to find.

LE – Limited Edition.

Mint – Perfect; like new.

NBU – Never Been Used; like new.

NM – Near Mint; very good, but not perfect, condition.

NWT – New With Tags; new items with original tags or labels still attached.

P – Poor; item is extremely worn, damaged, broken, or missing parts.

SIG – Signed; note that it’s difficult, often impossible, to verify signatures. A certificate of authenticity is better.

VG – Very Good; minimal to no damage or wear.

Remember: the online auction terms listed above are common usage these days, but sellers create new abbreviations every day. Most auction sites allow you the opportunity to ask the seller questions before bidding; take advantage of it!

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