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Harry graduated from auction school in 1980 and has been an auctioneer for 32 years.

When Harry first graduated, he held only 1-2 auctions per year.

However, about 1985 his name became more famous in auction circles and he started to conduct about one auction per month.

By 1990, Harry was conducting over 50 auctions per year. In 2012, Harry’s company, inclusive of his son Troy and daughter Gail, conducted just over 200 auctions.

200 auctions a year? That would be on average one auction every 1.825 days.

Harry’s story is hardly remarkable. Many auctioneers around the United States conduct 100’s of auctions every year.

Our topic today regards how we count “an auction.” In other words, what makes up an auction? What is an auction?

When we asked Harry, he seemed almost bewildered by our question, but answered nonetheless:

    “What’s an auction? You mean, what is it? For us, it’s an event — it starts with registering bidders, and then the opening announcements, and ends when we sell the last item, and the bidders settle-up.

    I think last year we had 207 auctions, counting our twice weekly consignment auctions, our Monday car auction and Thursday livestock auction.”

On Monday night following their weekly car auction, Troy is at the office updating their website for their next consignment auction — when the phone rings. It’s a regular buyer at Harry’s Thursday livestock auction who tells Troy that a new auctioneer in town is advertising on his website that he conducted “10,000 auctions last year.”

Troy’s mystified. “You must have misread that, Bill. That would be … I mean, we’re the busiest auctioneers in town, and we don’t do 300 auctions in a year.

For thousand of years, the word, “auction” has meant an “event,” inclusive of all the property for sale contained within. A two-day auction would be an event too big for one day, and extending over a second day. Someone saying the “auction went well” would be referring to the entire auction — from start to finish, rather than describing one item.

Yet, the UCC 2-328 (1) suggests maybe that other auctioneer did conduct 10,000 auctions last year. In particular, it says:

  • In a sale by auction if goods are put up in lots each lot is the subject of a separate sale.

As such, each item constitutes a separate sale, and the UCC 2-328 uses the word “sale” as equivalent to “auction” throughout.

So, could an auctioneer argue that he has conducted 10,000 auctions if he sold at auction 10,000 items? It would seem so.

I’ve joked about this interpretation for decades in UCC 2-328 classes I teach. In the last class I taught in Indiana I distinctly remember telling the group there:

    “You guys need to run home and update your websites … many of you have done millions of auctions …”

But I was kidding.

Given the common interpretation of the word, “auction” it would be nothing less than misrepresentation for an auctioneer to advertise — or hold himself out as — having conducted 10,000 auctions if he had only sold 10,000 items.

In marketing and advertising, there is what is called “manipulation of unit standards,” where advertises attempt to falsify common measuring units to their advantage.

Such a case involved Fretter Appliance stores claiming “I’ll give you five pounds of coffee if I can’t beat your best deal”. While initially they gave away a true five pounds, they later redefined them as “Fretter pounds,” which were much lighter than standard pounds.

If an auctioneer has sold 10,000 items at auction, it would be more forthright for him (or her) to say so, rather than to portray the 10,000 items as 10,000 auctions.

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 Greater Columbus Auctions and Goodwill Columbus Car Auction and. 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.