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For online auctions — and for that matter, any auction — bidders can disclose or keep confidential their maximum (max) bid. I might “attend” an auction with a Jefferson Golden Hour Mystery Clock and either place a maximum bid of $100 or intend otherwise to bid (confidentially) up to $100 if necessary.

Our question today is: Can two bidders have the same max bid? Certainly, unknowingly to anyone else, many bidders could have the same maximum bid in mind for any auction item. What if one bidder placed a disclosed absentee maximum bid of $100 for this aforementioned clock — could another place this same maximum bid?

If the software (or a person) would receive a second maximum bid of the same amount and be told, “You must increase your maximum bid …” isn’t that telling the second bidder to bid $0.01 less than that to ensure the maximum bidder is the high bidder at their maximum amount? And if he does increase his bid, don’t we owe our other bidder the same opportunity to increase his bid?

Or, if I’m the second “maximum” bidder and am told, “You must increase your maximum bid …” then maybe I don’t bid at all, thinking I have no chance to win? Wouldn’t it be better to allow me to bid my maximum thus pushing the other highest maximum bid into the first position benefiting the seller?

We contend that absentee bids of any type should be ordered first by amount, and for any amounts, exactly the same, be ordered by time received. Thus if one maximum bid of $100 is placed at 4:30 pm and another is placed at 5:03 pm that would make the first (4:30 pm) maximum (or any such absentee bid) the effective bid, with the other being void.

If our 4:30 pm $100 bid and 5:03 pm $100 bid were the only bids placed, we would open the bidding at $100 for the 4:30 bidder. For any questions from our 5:03 pm bidder, another bid of the same amount arrived before yours: https://mikebrandlyauctioneer.wordpress.com/2010/04/11/absentee-bids/.

This isn’t “rocket science” in that absentee bids can (and should) be handled much like actual bids. In this example, the first one to $100 wins unless there are other higher bids subsequent. Further, no absentee bidder should have their information disclosed to any other without the knowledge and consent of that bidder.

So, to answer our original question — can two bidders have the same “max bid?” The answer is yes, no matter the circumstance, but the first one placed in any situation should have priority. And again, it’s not good to start an auction before the auction by disclosing some absentee bids to other absentee bidders even with knowledge and consent.

Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, CAI, CAS, AARE has been an auctioneer and certified appraiser for over 30 years. His company’s auctions are located at: Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, RES Auction Services, and Goodwill Columbus Car Auction. He serves as Distinguished Faculty at Hondros College, Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School, and an Instructor at the National Auctioneers Association’s Designation Academy and Western College of Auctioneering. He is faculty at the Certified Auctioneers Institute held at Indiana University and is approved by The Supreme Court of Ohio for attorney education.