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As we have attempted to count the number of auctioneers in the United States, and so far have estimated about 85,000, another question has come to light. What makes someone an auctioneer?

If first, we look at license states, versus non-license states, there does seem to be an easy answer, as those license states define in their law what they consider an auctioneer to be. For example:

    Indiana: 25-6.1-1-3 “Auctioneer” means an individual who is engaged in, or who by advertising or otherwise holds the individual out as being available to engage in, the calling for, the recognition of, and the acceptance of offers for the purchase of goods or real estate at an auction.
    Ohio: 4707.01 (b) “Auctioneer” means any person who engages, or who by advertising or otherwise holds the person out as being able to engage, in the calling for, recognition of, and the acceptance of, offers for the purchase of real or personal property, goods, or chattels at auction either directly or through the use of other licensed auctioneers or apprentice auctioneers.
    Texas: 1802.111(5) “Auctioneer” means an individual who sells or offers to sell property at auction, with or without receiving consideration, as a bid caller.
    Alabama: 4,1 34-1-2 Auctioneer. Any person who has graduated from an accredited auction school and has one year’s experience as an apprentice auctioneer or has two years’ experience as an apprentice auctioneer in bid calling, for a fee, commission or any other valuable consideration, or with the intention or expectation of receiving the same, by the means of or process of an auction or sale at auction, offers, negotiates or attempts to negotiate a listing contract, sale, purchase or exchange of goods, chattels, merchandise, real or personal property or of any other commodity which may lawfully be kept or offered for sale by or at public auction.
    Florida: Title 32, 468.382 (1) “Auction business” means a sole proprietorship, partnership, or corporation which in the regular course of business arranges, manages, sponsors, advertises, promotes, or carries out auctions, employs auctioneers to conduct auctions in its facilities, or uses or allows the use of its facilities for auctions. & (2) Auctioneer” means any person licensed pursuant to this part who holds a valid Florida auctioneer license.
    Massachusetts: Chapter 100, (1) “Auctioneer”, any person who, for a fee, commission, profit or any other valuable consideration, or with the intention or expectation of receiving the same, by means of, or process of, an auction or sale at auction, offers, negotiates or attempts to negotiate, a listing contract, sale, purchase or exchange of goods, chattels, merchandise, real or personal property, or of any other commodity which may lawfully be kept or offered for sale by or at public auction.
    Oregon: 698.635 (2) “Auctioneer” means any person who sells or offers to sell property at auction, either on the person’s own behalf or for another person.
    …and the list goes on with very similar definitions in other license states.

Most license states require some sort of auction schooling, paying a fee and passing a test. Some license states require an apprenticeship period be served under an existing licensed auctioneer.

This question of “what makes someone an auctioneer?” is a bit more complex, as auctioneers around the country discuss it. For example, some auctioneers define the term “auctioneer” like this: Someone who …

  • Does bid calling for a profession
  • Works as their primary occupation as an auctioneer
  • Holds themselves out as an auctioneer
  • Contracts with sellers to sell their property at auction
  • Conducts auctions by personally accepting bids, and declares sold
  • Runs a company, hiring auctioneers as bid callers
  • Makes at least 50% of their income as an auctioneer
  • Has graduated from auction school
  • Says he is an auctioneer

In regard to that last thought listed above, in some non-licensed jurisdictions, basically anyone can say that they are an “auctioneer” but would that alone make them one? I might argue that if they merely say that they are an auctioneer, that’s not enough. However, if they hold themselves out as an auctioneer, via a website, or other advertising, and are willing and able to provide services as an auctioneer upon request of a client, then they are an auctioneer.

As Potter Stewart so noted in the famous U.S. Supreme Court Case Jacobellis v. Ohio 378 U.S. 184 (1964), albeit in regard to obsenity in a movie, his quote may apply here: “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that. ”

Most remember: “I know it when I see it.”

In other words, maybe we could look at anyone and say, they are or are not auctioneer, but not really come up with a firm, set definition of what an auctioneer is? Maybe we just know it when we see it?

What’s my definition? I would say this:

An auctioneer is someone who proclaims publicly he is an auctioneer, being someone who has the authority to accept bids from bidders, and the authority to declare items sold, at an auction, through the use of their own bid calling ability or that of another auctioneer, being an individual, partnership, LLC, corporation or other entity, with the capacity to act as such, including the necessary licensing in the state or other areas they claim to operate as such, and with the willingness and abilities as an auctioneer to service his own interests or clients as such, whether those clients are sellers or other auctioneers or auction companies.

What’s your definition? What makes someone an auctioneer?

Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, CAI, AARE has been an auctioneer and certified appraiser for over 30 years. His company’s auctions are located at: Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, Keller Williams Auctions and Goodwill Columbus Car Auction. His Facebook page is: www.facebook.com/mbauctioneer. He is Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School.