Skip to Main Content

Researching Antiques and Collectibles: Glossary of Art Auction Terms

Learn how to research the provenance and value of your antiques & collectibles.

Glossary of Art Auction Terms

Appraisal A formal analysis of the value of an object or property usually resulting in a written document used for tax and insurance purposes. The value can be assessed in terms of the price the object/property might receive at auction (see "Fair Market Value") or the cost to replace the item (see "Insurance Value"). Auction houses and professional appraisers can provide appraisals for items. 

Auction Estimate The price range an object/property is expected to sell at an auction. Determined by the auction house, the price is based on an analysis of the object/property and prices achieved by other similar objects. The auction estimate is often the price included in auction catalogs. Also known as Pre-Sale Estimate.

Authorship Used in auction catalogs to identify the creator of an object.

Bid A price offered by an individual when he/she wants to buy a lot.

Bought In If a lot does not receive any bids or does not meet the reserve price, the lot will be returned to the original owner or consignor. When this occurs, the phrase “brought in” will be listed in catalogs and buyer’s lists. Often times in this case, the name of the auctioneer will be listed as the buyer of the lot. The item could also be listed as "Passed" or "Withdrawn."

Buyer’s List See "Price List"

Buyer’s Premium An additional amount added to the Hammer Price of a lot paid to the auction house for its services. The Price List will note whether or not the price includes the Buyer’s Premium. The Buyer’s Premium is included in the Price Realized.

Catalog/Catalogue After items are collected for a sale, a catalog is published and lists the lots to be included in the sale. The majority of catalogs have illustrate entries that have been thoroughly researched by experts. For a particular item, the entry can provide the authorship, title, medium, date, location, provenance, exhibition history, bibliography and auction estimate. Catalogs can be published in either print or online.

Consignor An individual who solicits an auction house to sell objects/properties. The consignor transfers ownership to the auction house, except when the object does not sell or meet its reserve price (see “Bought In”).

Fair Market Value  The value assigned to an object/property describing the price the object/property will receive at auction. This type of evaluation is usually conducted by an appraiser.

Hammer Price The winning bid for a lot at an auction (named after the action of the auctioneer using his/her hammer to signal the end of bidding). The hammer price is included in the Price List and usually does not include the Buyer’s Premium. Contrast with Price Realized.

Insurance Value The value assigned to an object/property by an appraiser determining the monetary cost to replace an item. Compare with Fair Market Value.

Lot An individual object or group of objects for sale in an auction. Auction catalogs are arranged by lot number.

Pre-Sale Estimate See "Auction Estimate"

Price List After a sale is completed, a list of final sale prices for each lot is recorded. The final price is either listed as the Hammer Price or the Price Realized. This price list is then sent to all subscribers of the auction house’s catalogs, where the list is attached to the relevant catalog. These lists are also available from the auction house.

Price Realized The complete price a buyer pays for an item. Price Realized includes the Hammer Price, the Buyer’s Premium, and any additional fees or taxes. Sometimes the Price Realized is included in auction material and Price Lists.

Provenance Documentation providing the history of the ownership of an item. Often provenance is used to confirm authorship of an item. Provenance information is often included in the auction catalog.

Reserve Price The minimum selling price for an object/property agreed upon by the consignor and the auction house.

Withdrawn See “Bought In”