What is an Auctioneer?

The “Cattle Rattle”, The “Chant”, “Bid Calling” or “Auctioneering”. No matter what you call it no doubt when you think of an auction, you think of the auctioneer. And when thinking of the auctioneer you think of the person on the microphone has that signature fast paced speech to a beat when performing the auction. So if any one were to ask you “what is an auctioneer”?  You may agree with most peoples definition such as can be found in many a dictionary. On dictionary.com it defines an auctioneer as:


A person who conducts an auction by announcing the lots and controlling the bidding


However, in my opinion, that leaves too much open to interpretation. I will use an example I am familiar with, because I am currently to lazy, to think of another right now. In the year 2000, Napster was very popular due to it offering free music to users to download and share. The Napster site and interface was eventually taken down (it was released again later, but that is not important for the story).  One of major reasons that it was taken down was because artists, and bands fought the right to distribute based on copyright laws. One of the bands in the forefront of this movement was by far and large, Metallica. Metallica was represented on every major television and radio show though out the country. Due to this, you got to hear a lot of what “they” had to say. However, “They” was mostly Lars Ulrich. So every time you watched TV it was “Lars Ulrich of Metallica speaking out against Napster”. Now the rest of the band members would be there, in the background, supporting the decision they made as group. Lars though was front and center every step along to the way. All eyes on him. With that sort of presence, and spokesmanship you may assume he was the lead member of the band. The lead singer, the guitarist, and the face of Metallica. That wasn’t Lars Ulrich though, he was the drummer, and never a vocalist of any kind for Metallica. Why is this significant to this post? The National Auctioneers Association (NAA) defines an auctioneer as:


The person whom the seller engages to direct, conduct, or be responsible for a sale by auction. This person may or may not actually call or “cry” the auction.


That is greatly different than the dictionary.com definition. With Metallica when you answer the question “who is the voice” of Metallica  some people will answer “Jame Hetfield” right off the bat, because he is the lead singer and has been from day one. I say the people who answer that question by saying James Hetfield, are the same people who say the auctioneer of the auction service hired is the person talking fast on the microphone. Now many of times that will be the case, just as in most bands, or musical groups, the lead singer is the lead person for the band. And if you knew nothing of the Napster fiasco, you may still feel that way. However, sometimes the “voice” can be someone you hardly hear. The same can be true of “Auctioneers”.

Today there are many different styles, and types of auctions. Not only in the products sold, but also in the method of selling.

You may have a live auction. Where the auction is held at one specific location, and one person handles the bid calling. You can have a live auction where multiple people handle the bid calling. You can have a live auction in which multiple auctions are taking place at the same time, with multiple people handling bid calling.

You may have an online only auction. This method is where you bid on items, and there was a set time when the auction ended selling to the highest bidder at the time. These are also named “Timed Auctions”. A variation of this method is called a “Soft Close Timed Auction”. This takes the ability to “snipe” an item away at the last minute because anything that is set for a soft close will be extended for a set period of time until there is no additional bids. Let me give you an example where there is a five minute soft close. If an item is set to close at 8:05pm, and at 8:04pm a bid is placed on the item, the auction then extends it closing time until 8:09pm, five minutes after the last bid was received. This in theory could continue to happen for quite some time unless a final end time is established. I have heard of one auctioneer who had a similar system in place for one of his auctions, and the soft close extended the auction over night and into the next day!

A different variation of auction is a simulcast auction. This is an auction where items are sold live, to people in attendance at the event, and also to people either listening, or watching online at the same time. The people who are watching, or listening in, have the opportunity to bid on items in real time while the items are also available to people who are physically at the event. Most of these types of auctions also allow you to bid ahead of time on line before the auctions begins.

Another up and coming auction type I know of are virtual auctions. I have listened to and attended a few of these. I think the concept is very innovative  and gives room for so much flexibility, including being an auctioneer that never gets out of his PJ’s and still gets to chant the bid calling. This is where like a simulcast auction, an auctioneer is calling for bids, just like a live auction, except there is no physically present audience. So a person may be auctioning off items in their garage, basement, or living room. People then get to attend by listening in, or in some cases watching. Though I have never seen one of these types of auctions with video I suppose it is extremely plausible, as it could be done with a video camera as well instead of just a microphone.


With all the different types of auctions and methods of selling by means of auction out there, I can see why it would be much more simple  for someone to say an auctioneer is the person who is calling out for bids. However, as a proud member of the NAA, I agree that an auctioneer is much more. It is the person you entrust to sell your items for you. Someone you trust to do the best possible job within the restrictions of the sale, and still make you the most amount of money. A person you like, and not just a person who can talk fast.

Does that mean that an auctioneer is a company, or a person? Is an Auctioneer a feeling, or a thought? Is it a warm fuzzy feeling when you see your items sell for more then you thought it would? I think only you can truly decide what you think an auctioneer is, but for me, it is a person. It’s a person you like, and that you feel proud to know. Am I biased? Maybe. But I have been in business for myself most of my life, and I can tell you that through the association I have made in this industry, Auctioneers are some of the best salt of the earth people in any business I have met. I hope that the auctioneers you come into contact within your life are great as possible.


Col. John John Genovese, ATS