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How to be an auctioneer and make people part with their money

It’s commonly believed that salesmanship and humour are the only qualities an auctioneer needs.

, ET Bureau|
Nov 13, 2019, 12.21 PM IST
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It’s the auctioneer’s job to keep bidding right up to the reserve price against someone who is willing to acquire that work.
Can you command a room and get people to part with their money? Then auctioneering may be your true calling.

Standing on the rostrum, gavel in hand, the auctioneer holds the crowd and tries to engineer proceedings to get the maximum bid. But when record auction prices make headlines, it’s the artwork, the artist and the buyer (if known) who are spoken about and not the person who sealed the deal.

It’s commonly believed that salesmanship and humour are the only qualities an auctioneer needs.

“People don’t realise how much goes into it [auctioning]. It’s not as simple as just standing up there and saying out loud the numbers,” says Ishrat Kanga, deputy director, specialist, head of Sale at Sotheby’s London, who has also donned the auctioneer’s hat.

Hitting the gavel
One of the important things an auctioneer needs is numerical dexterity to keep track of the in crements. “You have to do mental calculations in your head,” says Kanga.

It’s all about playing with the secret reserve price — a minimum sale price for a work as decided by the seller.

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An auctioneer's job can also be daunting, particularly when there is a difficult crowd and there are no bids.

It’s the auctioneer’s job to keep bidding right up to the reserve price against someone who is willing to acquire that work. “Say there is a reserve price of 100 pounds for a work. You have to start lower [with the bidding] because you can’t give up the secret reserve price,” says Kanga. “If I start at 95, everybody is going to know that the next bid is 100, which is the reserve price. The beauty is subtly hiding where the reserve price is.”

Say the auctioneer starts at 65. “The bid goes 70, 75, 80 and so on. Now 100 is the reserve price. So, as an auctioneer you have to remember that 100 does not fall on you. The collector in the room has to [buy the lot]. You have to do that calculation in your head. You have to back track in your mind to figure out a way that the 95 bid falls on you [the auctioneer] and the 100 falls on the buyer,” Kanga says.

The reason: If you take the bid at 100 (the reserve price) and nobody else bids after that, the lot is sold to you — the auctioneer.

Managing the stress
The job can also be daunting, particularly when there is a difficult crowd and there are no bids. Kanga likens it to putting on a live performance. “It is very stressful. You have to think on your feet. Your energy level has to be at the maximum for hours and hours, because if you start to fade, they [the buyers] start to fade,” she says.

From 'Pink' Diamond To The World's First Microchip: Items That Failed To Sell At Auctions

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A Beethoven Manuscript

30 Nov, 2017
In 2016, Sotheby's had a manuscript by Ludwig van Beethoven up for auction. The single-page manuscript was described as the "Autograph manuscript of the 'Allegretto' in B minor for string quartet (WoO 210), composed for an English visitor to Vienna in 1817". It has the words "composed and written by Beethoven himself November 29, 1817 at Vienna" inscribed on it. The manuscript was expected to fetch about 200,000 pounds. The auction house made a statement that there were no takers because of a Beethoven scholar's claim that the manuscript was not authentic. Image: Sotheby's
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