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My friend, client and longtime customer, auctioneer Walter Peer attended our auctions for many years. Walter had been an auctioneer since the early 1950’s, and still held an auction every every once in a while until his death about five years ago.

One comment Walter would make to me almost every week at our auctions was, “You’re selling all your good stuff first … you’re going to lose your crowd.” In fact, I had heard that theory from many auctioneers — sell “uphill” and keep the best stuff for last — to keep the crowd there.

In talking with auctioneers all over the country, it seems there is somewhat a divide between the auctioneers who do indeed sell their better items last (or later,) and those who sell their better items first (or early.)

The theories seem to be:

  • Sell the better items last. That way, the bidders stick around and end up buying other items they otherwise wouldn’t — while waiting for those better items.
  • Sell the better items first. That way, those bidders will not be holding their money for those later possible purchases, and after those better items sell, those bidders still having some money will bid on those lesser items remaining.

An example. Let’s say an auction is made up of about 500 lots, including antique furniture, pottery, glassware, and other collectibles. There are also about 150 boxed lots of kitchen items and smalls. And, the best item is the seller’s 1963 Pontiac Bonneville Convertible with only 26,000 miles.

Our first question is: What items are sold first, early, mid-way through, and then last? In other words, “Does order of sale matter?”

  • Walter Peer’s theory was to hold the 1963 Pontiac Bonneville Convertible until last, and as well hold most of the antique furniture and other collectibles for later. Sell the boxed lots first, and then work up to the better antiques, and end with the Bonneville. This way, those who came to purchase the Bonneville and/or the antiques and collectibles will bid on some of the boxed lots while waiting.
  • The contrary theory is to start the auction with the better antiques and collectibles, and sell the Bonneville early, and then end the auction with the boxed lots. This way, those who are holding their money for the Bonneville (and other higher-end items) will have that purchase decided, and then those with money remaining will have items to purchase.

There is another question here as well. If this auction also had several 1963 Pontiac manuals and advertising items, when would those sell?

There seems to be an almost universal consensus that the best strategy is to sell the automobile first, and then the manuals and other related items after. This way, the buyer of the automobile will be established and then can bid knowing he or she owns the car, while others who want the manuals and/or advertising items regardless (maybe they already have a 1963 Pontiac Bonneville?) will bid right along.

What is important here is that if there is even one bidder who would only want the manuals and/or advertising items if he buys the automobile, then it is prudent to sell the automobile before these related items. For those who will bid regardless if they buy the automobile or not, it doesn’t matter when the automobile is sold.

Ultimately, it appears that almost all auctioneers consider the order of sale, and structure their auctions with a particular theory of the proper order in mind. As well, it seems that most auction clients and customers are fairly oblivious to the order of sale, other than recognizing that a certain order is utilized, for whatever reason … if any.

Does order of sale matter? Auctioneers tend to think so.

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 serves as Adjunct Faculty at Columbus State Community College and is Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School.