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An an auction, there is typically a person “working the ring,” commonly referred to as a ringman.

This person is charged with basically two functions: Presenting the property that is currently up for auction and/or looking for bidders and relaying those bids to the auctioneer.

Often times as the size of auction crowds increase, extraneous noise makes it nearly impossible for the person working the ring to communicate orally with the auctioneer.

For instance, the auctioneer will know the bid amount, but may not know the identity of the high bidder — because the person working the ring has relayed that bid to the auctioneer without identifying the actual bidder.

Or, the auctioneer will be selling choice, and will not know the identity of the high bidder, nor how many items the high bidder wishes to purchase.

In either case, many times the person working the ring needs to communicate numbers to the auctioneer by essentially “sign language.”

Auctioneers have a unique hand signal numbering system (distinctly different from the American Sign Language standard.)

Numbers in the auctioneer system are displayed by the digit — in other words, the number 1,724 would be displayed as, “1-7-2-4.”

Courtesy of Laura Mantle, Auctioneer, here are the 10 digits as displayed by hand signal (click on a picture for a close-up view.)

There are other hand signals as well, such as:

  • Pointing with one finger straight up and making a circle motion indicates that the bidder wants to “take them all” in a choice situation.
  • A hand motion where all the fingers are straight and put together, and the hand is moved palm down back-and-forth indicates the bidder is offering one-half of the invited amount, or maybe wants one-half of the choice items.
  • Two or three fingers are touched on the chest, near the middle, indicates a question to the auctioneer: “Do you have me?”
  • During the bid calling, a fist in the air indicates that the ringman feels his bidder is the current high bidder, and the auctioneer must correct if that is not the case.
  • Both hands open, with each hand wiping the other, back and forth, up in the air, indicates to the auctioneer that there are no more bids, and the property can be sold.

Communication between the auctioneer and ringman is paramount for a successful and efficient auction. These types of hand signals facilitate this communication when no words can be heard.

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.