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Auctioneer of Christie's auction house

An auction ( listening ? / I ) (also auction or bidding ) is a way of concluding a sales contract. In an auction, it is mostly those interested in buying (“bidders”) who submit binding bids for an auction item. The auction goods are often physically present during the auction and / or can be viewed before the auction. The bidders make an offer to the seller or the auctioneer acting on his behalf (declaration of intent aimed at concluding a contract). In a traditional auction, an auctioneer is responsible for handling the auction. He auctions the auction goods to bidders present and / or bidding by telephone. Audio file / audio sample

In most auctions, the bids increase - the highest bid is named last and wins the bid. However, there are also so-called reverse auctions with descending bids.

The reason for this pricing is information asymmetries in the market. While the vendor wants to sell his goods at the highest possible price, the bidder wants to bid for the goods at the lowest possible price. The provider often does not know the willingness of interested parties to pay. If he sets a price that is too high, he cannot sell his goods. If he sets a price that is too low, he misses part of the potential profit. The bidders know their own willingness to pay, but not the willingness of other interested parties to pay. It therefore happens that a bidder allows himself to be influenced by other bidders and offers more than originally planned. Under certain circumstances, competition between bidders can lead to what is known as a bidding war. Bidding battles are not possible if, in a reverse auction, the first bidder to submit a bid immediately receives the auction item.

The auction theory deals with the analysis of auction mechanisms and bidding strategies from the perspective of microeconomics and game theory .

Overview of common types of auctions

There are big differences between auction houses and between auction models. Traditional auction houses such as Sotheby’s , Christie's , Lempertz or Dorotheum work very similarly. A distinction can be made between the traditional auction system (auction according to § 156 BGB ) and online auctions, as they are e.g. B. take place on eBay . When traditional auction houses conduct auctions on the Internet, for example via the German platform LOT-TISSIMO , they are live Internet auctions. The following table lists the distinguishing features between traditional auctions, online auctions and Internet live auctions:

Traditional auction Online auction Internet live auction
Participation in the auction within the meaning of § 156 BGB At the auction house's location in the auction room there, or by phone Not possible Using a personal computer , notebook , tablet PC and smartphone or at the auction house in the auction room there, or by phone
Assessment of the goods By experts on the basis of the original, a certificate or pictures By the buyer mostly on the basis of the description and electronic pictures on the offer page In the first step via a network of experts, based on photos and / or reports . In the second step by experts based on the original at the auction house's location
Description of the goods By an independent and qualified body commissioned by the auctioneer or by experts within the auction house By the seller By an independent and qualified body commissioned by the auctioneer or by experts within the auction house
Evaluation of the goods Justified, objective compared to market standards In part by the seller, often no assessment is made Justified, objectively compared to market standards, publication of auction results online via databases such as Artnet , sometimes indexing of auction results on the auction house's own website
Presentation of the goods Often in elaborately designed catalogs Through the seller on the Internet Through the auction house via high definition television livestream on the Internet , before the auction via online catalog
Inspection of the goods At the auction site (central) before and during the auction Usually not possible (decentralized at the seller) During the auction via live stream on the Internet, also at the auction location (central) before and during the auction
Duration of the auction A few seconds to minutes for an article. Many auction houses accept bids in writing in advance of the auction after the goods have been published in the auction catalog. These written bids are only taken into account when they are called up in the auction room. A few days to weeks for an article A few minutes for an article. Without exception, only after the auctioneer has established by means of a call that none of those present, whether on-site or online , would like to outbid the last available bid.
Bidding on an item During the auction or in advance in writing Directly within the auction period or by means of a bidding agent During the auction online or at the auction house's location, alternatively by phone , or in advance of the auction online via the auction house's website or via partner websites syndicated with the auction house, as well as by e-mail, fax, post or personal delivery at the auction house's location as so-called pre-bid. Without exception, pre-bids are only considered when the auction item is called up in the auction room.
End of an auction After placing the highest bid At a set time After the highest bid has been placed and the auctioneer exclaims “For the first, for the second and for the third”, and then the hammer blows
Shipping / export Organized by auction house or customer picks up the goods personally. Organized by the seller or the customer picks up the goods personally. Organized by auction house or customer picks up the goods personally.
Identity of the buyer and seller Are personally known to the auction house. No secure verification of identity. Are personally known to the auction house. The identity of buyers and sellers is checked electronically using a risk management process, usually certified by auditing companies such as TÜV SÜD .
Advance payment for posting Depending on the type and value of the goods, the seller is usually granted an interest-bearing advance payment. Not applicable Depending on the type and value of the goods, the seller is usually granted an interest-bearing advance payment. The interest rate is on the website visible on the auction house.
Commissions / Commissions Usually charged to both the consignor and the bidder (buyer). But it can also deviate in different ways and is handled differently depending on the auction house. Usually only charged to the seller. Buyers and sellers pay different fees, the tariff can be viewed on the websites of the auction houses.
Payment processing Through the auction house as trustee (anonymous) Usually direct processing between buyer and seller, otherwise in electronic payment transactions , e.g. B. by Paypal or Visa Inc. , Mastercard , American Express or Diners Club Through the auction house as trustee , mainly in electronic payment transactions , e.g. B. by Paypal or Visa Inc. , Mastercard , American Express or Diners Club
Complaints Mediated, checked and arbitrated (anonymous) by auction house. If auction houses work on behalf of the consignor, a direct notification of the consignor is possible at any time on request, but is usually not the norm. Usually direct processing between buyer and seller Mediated, checked and arbitrated (anonymous) by auction house. Certification of the arbitration process by testing companies such as TÜV SÜD or Trusted Shops .

The most important tasks of a traditional auction house are the technically sound and appropriate description and documentation of the goods as well as the fiduciary handling of the trading business.

Traditional auction



The entire lot of all individual parts that are to be auctioned at auction is called consignment and the person who leaves the goods to the auction house for auction is called consignor .

As a rule, an agreement is made between the seller (consignor) and the auction house to sell a collection or part of a collection. Such an agreement can come about in very different ways:

  • It is an inheritance and the heirs are trying to sell the collection.
  • A collector wants to get rid of part of his collection.
  • A trader tries to sell a particular lot in the best way possible.
  • The auction house itself advertises a seller.

Depending on the auction division, auction house and the value of the goods delivered, the consignor can be granted an advance payment on the expected sale for some consignments. Such advances, all accruing interest, inspection expenses and other costs are precisely documented and set off against the income generated by the sale in the subsequent settlement after the auction.

Traditional auction houses usually hold a certain number of auctions a year in which objects from different categories (e.g. porcelain, furniture, jewelry, coins, paintings, etc.) are offered, others hold separate auctions for individual categories or are generally open specializes in a particular commodity. Occasionally, however, special auctions are held if, for example, a certain collection is closed or the inventory of an entire castle is auctioned. This is often associated with a special advertising effect when it comes to a known collection, and the verifiable origin of such a collection can increase the value of the individual object. On the other hand, from the auction house's point of view, it can also make sense to deliberately not sell a large collection of similar objects at once, so that there is no oversupply, which can lead to lower prices.

Traditional auctions usually take place in the premises of the auction house, where the objects to be auctioned are stored and could be viewed beforehand. An auction (and preview) can also take place at another location, e.g. B. when the inventory of a company is auctioned - for example large machines or extensive inventories that cannot be dismantled or transported.

View and check material

The delivered material is roughly sorted, examined in detail and checked by experts in the auction house. This process can be done in one or more steps. Based on the assessment of the experts, the decision is made as to how the material for the auction will be divided into lots (including lots , bundles ).

Researching the origin also belongs in the context of material testing. A check should be carried out on suspicious objects in order to rule out any stolen property . For this purpose, relevant databases such as the Art Loss Register are searched. In the area of ​​art and antiques, it may be necessary to investigate whether the provenance could indicate that it is perhaps looted art .

Describe material

In some cases, for particularly valuable lots, an external expert draws up a test certificate or an expert report that is enclosed with the goods. Depending on the reputation of the expert, the value of works of art can be determined by a positive report e.g. B. the authoritative expert for a particular artist, can be increased significantly.

In philately z. For example, there are very extensive catalogs in which objects are described and in some cases assessed. Examples of such catalogs are the German Michel , the Swiss Zumstein or the American Scott catalog . In the case of postage stamps or coins, such catalogs can be created because the individual objects are usually not absolutely unique, whereas works of art or antiques are usually unique and can only be compared to a limited extent. For certain types of antiques (e.g. furniture, clocks or toys) there are also printed catalogs for which, however, it must always be taken into account whether the object to be assessed is actually comparable with the one listed in the catalog. There are also various online price databases that also contain auction results.

The final evaluation of the goods is always carried out by an individual inspector, even in areas where catalogs are available. He can also judge whether the prices achieved for comparable objects at previous auctions can be considered realistic or whether they have only come about through special circumstances (e.g. two interested parties who have repeatedly outbid each other). Changes in the market in the meantime must also be taken into account, as the art and antiques markets are also shaped in a certain way by fashions that mean that a price paid a long time ago may no longer be feasible today (or vice versa).

The experts and inspectors examine the material for any abnormalities and describe not only the origin, but also the state of preservation according to specified guidelines. Often the test certificates are also used as a basis for describing the goods in the auction catalog. Some auction houses also prepare separate status reports for individual lots on request, which go beyond the information in the catalog. Because of the effort involved, this is usually only possible for high-priced properties.

Based on the description and the comparison with similar goods, the experts give a minimum estimated price that can be achieved. As a rule, the consignor's ideas are also taken into account here, but it is also one of the tasks of the auction house to inform him of a realistic price and to correct excessive ideas. This realistic price is the basis for the price in the auction catalog, which is often referred to as the starting price or the catalog price.

In the case of art auctions, only one auction is often held for sub-areas, so that a consignment is often divided into several different auctions.

Catalog production

Auction notice on a dilapidated property to be auctioned in Rochlitz

The auction catalog is the calling card of an auction house. A lot of effort is required to create this. Not only is the entire product described as precisely as possible, but the individual objects often also have to be shown in the catalog. Renowned auction houses also use experts for this. In philately e.g. B. The color fidelity between the original and the image is often a major challenge. Depending on the lighting conditions and material properties, completely wrong colors can appear in the auction catalog. Another challenge in catalog production is sometimes the large number of auction lots and images in a catalog. Depending on the size and type of auction, up to 12,000 lots must be presented in a single catalog. In art auctions, however, the number of lots is often much smaller, although there are exceptions here, as the legendary Tek Sing auction at the Stuttgart auction house Nagel in November 2000 showed.

It has now become common for traditional auction houses to present their offer on the Internet in addition to the printed catalog. This online catalog often corresponds to the printed one, but sometimes it goes beyond that, for example with additional images. This is especially the case with smaller auction houses, which can put less effort into their printed catalog. There are also internet portals through which all current online catalogs can be searched in a targeted manner so that collectors can also gain knowledge of offers from smaller auction houses that are far away.

Circular or catalog orders

Some auction houses put a lot of effort into creating auction catalogs. These often serve as the basis for the documentation of historical objects, since the auctioned objects are often no longer accessible after they have been sold (e.g. in a private collection), so the catalog also has scientific value. Since many collectors and art enthusiasts are interested in such often unique historical documentation, but do not necessarily want or cannot participate in the auction, some of the leading auction houses have decided to charge a fee for their auction catalogs.

A side effect is that the exclusivity of the auction catalogs has increased significantly and that they have already become a coveted item in many collections. Often only a selected number of the customers of an auction house receive a catalog for free. Everyone else receives a circular that can be compared with an order form for the auction catalog. When circulars are sent, this is done long before the catalog is produced in order to be able to better estimate the circulation.

Viewing the material

Before each auction, the goods are available for viewing in the auction room. Most auction houses offer fixed viewing times for the auction goods, which are usually a few days before the auction, depending on the spatial conditions, the goods can sometimes be viewed until shortly before the auction. For goods that cannot be stored in the auction house itself (e.g. vehicles or large machines), a separate appointment usually has to be made for the viewing.

Particularly valuable, sensitive and / or theft-prone goods are often displayed in showcases for security reasons and are often only released for closer inspection after presentation of identification documents or registration as a bidder. Sometimes the interested party receives a bidder number even before the auction, the goods are only given to them for viewing with a valid number. At the same time, the bidder number is documented for each lot viewed in order to make it easier to find the person responsible in the event of damage or even theft.

Often, commission agents also take on the task of viewing. You will be commissioned by an interested party to check the goods and, if necessary, to bid them. This is useful because commission agents are often specialists. They check the value of the goods for the bidder and can then make a bid recommendation based on their assessment. If a commission agent buys the goods for his client, he can remain anonymous.

In the case of top-quality items that are offered by internationally active auction houses, it is sometimes customary to show the item in question beforehand in different countries in the branch of the auction house in question, but because of the great effort this only happens for items in the very top price segment. Such presentations are, however, also an advertising measure for the auction house.


In order to be able to bid at an auction, bidders have to register, in some cases (see above) even when viewing certain objects. In many auction houses it is now common that an identification document ( identity card , passport ) has to be presented or a photocopy sent (in the case of written or telephone bids) for registration . Sometimes the specification of another auction house with which the potential bidder is already a customer is required in order to be able to make inquiries if necessary. In this way, the auction house and consignor are to be protected from bidders who purchase objects but do not pay, so that the objects have to be offered again.

Hall bidder

This is the name of the bidders who personally take part in an auction. Often, however, these are still represented by a commission agent or agent during the auction in order to preserve their anonymity and thus conceal the future location of the auctioned goods from the public. If the agent appears in his own name, the auctioneer is generally not theoretically aware of the actual buyer, but such agents become known very quickly, especially in collectors' circles, which then allows conclusions to be drawn about the actual buyer.

Telephone bidder

Many auction houses, especially in the art industry, offer prospective buyers the opportunity to follow the auction (or the part of it relevant to them) over the phone and bid over the phone. As a rule, the auction house calls the bidder as soon as the lot that interests him is reached in the auction. The interested party is then included in the bidding process like someone present in the hall, informed about the amount of the bids and asked whether they want to continue to bid.

This is particularly interesting for bidders who would otherwise have to travel far. In addition, the anonymity of the buyer is preserved, which is particularly useful for particularly valuable lots. Because of the effort involved, not all auction houses offer this service, as specialist staff must be employed, often with knowledge of foreign languages. In addition, this form of auction participation usually affects the otherwise fluid and fast auction process. Due to the presentation of the auction catalogs on the Internet, the demand for bidding by telephone has increased steadily in recent years. Today the vast majority of art auction houses are prepared for it. In order not to hinder the auction process, this service is usually only available for valuable objects, e.g. B. from a certain minimum price, offered; often there is only a limited number of telephone stations available so that the number of simultaneous telephone bidders is limited. Sometimes it is also required that the telephone bidder also submit a written "reserve bid", which is only taken into account if the telephone connection is not established or is broken.

Internet bidder

Lately, many auction houses have been offering the so-called "Live Auction". With this method, bidders from all over the world can conveniently submit their bids at an auction via the Internet from home. These are then passed on by one or more employees of the relevant auction house to the auctioneer, who then brings the bid into the auction. In contrast to fixed, written bids, which are only transmitted via the Internet before the auction, the bidder has the option of bidding in the live auction if he is outbid.

The anonymity of the bidder is also preserved with this procedure. Online bids are also much easier to organize than telephone bids. However, these online bids can also delay the course of an auction.

Written commandments

Many traditional auction houses offer the possibility of participating in an auction in writing without appearing in person at the auction. To do this, you give the auction house a list of all the lots you would like to bid for and the highest possible price that you are willing to pay for them. The auction house then takes on the role of trustee or bidding agent. This means that it is always in the interests of the bidder to try to achieve the cheapest price. However, a written bid can be outbid by other bidders in the auction room or by other written bidders. In contrast to online auctions, you can only find out whether this is the case when the lot is called up in the auction room. Until then, only the auction house may have knowledge of the written bids and must maintain absolute secrecy about them. If there are two or more equally high written bids for a lot (and there are no further bids, e.g. in the hall), the first bid will be accepted.

Bids can be submitted in writing before the auction, but also during the auction, which can sometimes last for several days. Many auction houses allow written bids to be submitted not only by post or fax, but also via the Internet, but this option must be differentiated from online live bids (see below), where the bidder bids directly in the auction.

Written bids can contain two special features:

  • Bids with a maximum limit :
If a bidder bids in writing for several lots, he can assume that he will not be the highest bidder for every lot and that his maximum bid will also be accepted. For this reason, he has the option of notifying many auction houses of the maximum amount he would like to spend in an auction. At the same time, however, he can bid for a multiple of this limit over several lots. It is then the task of the auction house to ensure that the bidder's maximum limit is not exceeded or is exceeded to a previously agreed maximum. He will only be awarded so many lots until the bidder's budget has been used up or all of his bids have been processed.
  • Or bids :
Sometimes several lots are offered that are actually the same. A collector often only wants one of these lots. He can then bid in writing for all these lots at many auction houses and inform the auction house that he only wants one of the lots. As soon as one of the lots is awarded to the bidder, the auction house is obliged to discard all further bids in this "or series".

Auction management

There are different systems here today. In many auction houses, the printed auction book is still common today, in which, in addition to the lot data, such as starting price or estimated price, the consignor, and notes, there are also written bids. The bids with the respective bidder number are also entered in this auction book. One problem with these auctions is the “or bids” and the maximum limits of a bidder for the auction. In order to guarantee this, considerable monitoring efforts are often necessary. One solution is the networked auction table, where this monitoring takes place automatically. In addition, at the networked auction table, bids can be submitted in writing until shortly before the call. The surcharges are also recorded immediately and can be prepared for delivery in the background while the auction is still running, in order to achieve quick payment and delivery of the goods. Large auction houses also offer the option of displaying the conversion to foreign currencies during the auction.

The auction conditions

The auction conditions must be accessible to everyone during the auction and must also be available in the auction room. As a rule, the auction conditions are already printed in the auction catalog. The auctioneer is also obliged to point out the auction conditions and their accessibility prior to the auction; he must also have these auction conditions with him.

Presence of an official at auctions in Switzerland

In Switzerland it is customary or mandatory for a city official to be present at an auction. This documents the auction in the hall independently of the auction house and can intervene in the event of a dispute. This official auction accompaniment is unusual in Germany.


A lot is called until no higher bid can be found. In doing so, the auctioneer adheres to previously determined growth levels, which take place from the height of the call. Higher bids can also be made in the hall, from which the further increase is continued. If there are written bids, an auctioneer will adjust the call in the hall to the highest increment of the written bids. In the case of bids above the published bid, this means an increase level above the second-highest bid, provided this does not exceed the maximum written bid, otherwise the bid is made for the maximum written bid. The highest written bid is bid against the hall until either a higher bid is made in the hall or the highest written bid exceeds the last price called in the hall. In the case of written bids, the auctioneer assumes the function of a bidding agent. If there are two equally high written highest bids, some auctioneers will win the bid that was submitted first, while other auctioneers make use of a random decision, for example through the first call from the audience. The way the surcharge can be made can vary. In auctions with small numbers of items, the last bid is called up to three times and concluded with the knock of the auction hammer. In the case of very extensive auctions, this form is sometimes dispensed with and simply asked whether no one wants to bid higher. In traditional auctions, the knocking of the auction hammer always closes the bid.

Subject to review

This means that a bidder or bidding agent may have noticed possible inconsistencies while viewing a lot and would like to have this lot examined more closely by a specialist. This is to check whether everything is in order with the goods or whether the estimated price at which a lot is called up really corresponds to what it is actually worth. Sometimes tampering with a lot cannot be recognized right away, which could U. would significantly reduce the actual value or even question the authenticity. In this case, he informs the auction house about it. If his objection is also justified from the auction house's point of view, the lot will then be called in the auction room "subject to review" and knocked down. In such cases, the auctioneer must announce this in the auction room before such a lot is called out and inform all bidders present about the objection. If, in retrospect, it actually turns out that something is wrong with the lot, and the amount of the call was unjustified or set too high, the knockdown will be retrospectively withdrawn and the lot will be withdrawn from the auction afterwards.

"How it is"

If the condition or value of a lot is justifiably criticized during the viewing, the auction houses also have the option of selling a lot “as is”. In such cases, provided the consignor has been informed and agrees, the scheduled call is often discarded and the bidders present can also submit their bids using the previously set call. In any case, the auctioneer must announce this in the auction room before such a lot is called out and inform all bidders present about the objection and the established background. In this case, all written bids on this lot will be discarded, as the description in the published auction catalog is incorrect and written bidders have submitted their bids under incorrect conditions.

Subject to approval

Sometimes there is no bidder who is willing to purchase a lot at the declared value (starting price or estimated price). If an auction house offers the option of placing bids under the exclamation mark, but the highest bid still exceeds a certain difference, an auctioneer can also accept a bid "with reservations" (UV). Whether this is possible is determined in the individual auction conditions of the auction house. In such cases, the highest bid and the bidder are recorded in the auction room, but the lot is still not accepted. Only when the consignor agrees to such a bid is the lot considered sold. Such lots are also called UV lots.

Acceptance of written bids after the auction

Depending on how the auction is conducted, bids for lots that were not called up in the auction room because there was no interest in these lots in the hall may still have to be knocked down. Although this procedure does not exactly correspond to the principle of a traditional auction house, it is sometimes necessary for auctions with large numbers of items in order not to drag the auction process in the hall too long. As an example, stamp or postcard auctions can be listed here, in which several thousand lots, sometimes over 10,000, are offered as a rule. The acceptance can either be done manually by the auctioneer or automatically by the auction system.

After the auction

Invoicing and shipping of the goods

After the auction, as soon as the last bids have been accepted, the written bidders will be invoiced for the lots they have won. The goods are usually dispatched after receipt of payment. In some cases, if there is a special relationship of trust between the auction house and the bidder, the goods will also be sent with the invoice. In addition to the knockdown, the bidder is also charged a commission, also known as a commission, and, depending on the auction house's auction conditions, a lot fee. Depending on the type of auction house, i.e. whether the auction house works in its own name or on behalf of the auction house, and depending on who the lot comes from, the amount of VAT incurred on the lot is also added. The sum of the above-mentioned surcharges is usually referred to as the premium in Germany. Therefore, when submitting a bid, bidders must take into account that the final price to be paid is increased by the premium. In the case of a few auction houses, however, the buyer's premium is already included in the minimum price or the respective bid, so that the bidder only has to pay the amount offered (apart from costs for transport or similar).

The tax calculation can be handled differently in practice in Germany from auction house to auction house:

  • Auction in your own name:
Since many of the auctioned items are goods that are referred to as cultural assets, the reduced tax rate usually applies to the lots themselves. The services of the auction house, in turn, are charged at the normal rate of sales tax . In some cases, however, the reduced tax rate is also applied to the auction house's entire invoice. Others split the bill and calculate different rates.
  • Auction on behalf:
For an auction house, this type of auction is associated with the most complex form of accounting, provided the auction house operates internationally. From a tax point of view, this creates a direct business relationship between the consignor and the bidder / buyer. Depending on whether the consignor acts commercially or sells the goods privately, the bidder is charged sales tax. Likewise, the import sales tax for commercial consignors from third countries (non-EU), or the import fees and sales tax, are passed on to them. The sales tax on the commission and other fees of the auction house are always due, as the business transaction and thus this service are provided in Germany. Dealers from EU countries will usually not offer their goods directly. Since the business is done in Germany, they would then also be taxable in Germany, i. In other words, you would have to apply for your own tax number and submit a tax return. Therefore, EU dealers usually deliver via a German dealer, which means that the regulation of a German dealer comes into effect.
Conversely, the regulation also applies to bidders abroad. Depending on where the bidder comes from or where the lots are being delivered, VAT may apply to the lots. So z. B. for domestic and EU commercial goods that are sent to a commercial buyer in the EU with an EU VAT ID or that are exported to a third country (non-EU). Buyers from third countries who pick up their goods themselves are generally liable for sales tax, but can have the sales tax credited and paid back for the lots if they return an export receipt. If the goods that a third-country customer purchases come from a third country, they are subject to import taxes and customs duties as well as export costs. In turn, some auction houses counter this with a bonded warehouse in which the goods are only officially imported into Germany when the goods are sold to Germany or the EU. The calculation of import charges is also handled differently by the customs offices. Some use the estimated value for the calculation of the import sales tax, which later appears in the catalog as an exclamation, as this must be paid immediately. Others exist as a basis for calculating the amount of the later surcharge. If a third country customer delivers the goods personally to the auction house, these are considered domestic goods.
For these reasons, the tax calculation on a single bidder invoice is usually carried out separately for each lot.

In short: there is no uniform consensus on tax regulations in Germany, which may also be due to the fact that, depending on the type and scope of an auction, the tax verifiability is hardly comprehensible and in practice is almost impracticable or too complicated and too expensive is. At the moment there is discussion about whether to introduce differential taxation for internationally operating auction houses. How a sales tax audit should then take place and what is then ultimately checked with what effort is more than just questionable. One can therefore speak of a certain tax chaos in Germany, even if many tax officials do not want this to be true. If you then ask them specifically and specifically for specific case studies, most of them give up sooner or later and look for a viable solution for an individual form of tax reporting or refer to the Federal Ministry of Finance. This is where the many different accounting systems at German auction houses come from.


A written bidders after receiving the goods do not agree with their condition or want the goods but did not, he can at the auction by § 156 not like a BGB in Germany distance contract the goods in accordance with the provisions of the Civil Code §§ 312 et seq. , 355 ff. On distance contracts. If there is a dispute, the auction house always tries to settle the matter first. If this is not possible, the two parties (consignor and bidder / buyer) must come to an agreement directly and, if necessary, resolve their conflict themselves before the relevant legal authorities. Sometimes, depending on the facts and circumstances, one of the parties may be blocked for future auctions due to such disputes. Not infrequently this is also the case with other auction houses, provided they are part of an association and inform each other.


Many auction houses nowadays post-sell unsold lots for a while after the auction. Many houses publish so-called return lots lists or offer the goods in an online shop. The price is based either on the minimum bid or the call. Often a fixed percentage is deducted from the start price and this price is then output as the selling price. The auctioneer remains committed to the consignment even in the aftermarket and is required to achieve the highest possible price. The post-sale does not meet the requirements of German case law for public auctions. That is why the privileges of the auction do not apply here (exceptions to the rules of distance selling, exclusion of warranty, purchase in good faith), unless the terms and conditions of the auction house expressly stipulate another regulation.

Consignor accounting

Depending on the auction conditions, settlement of the sold goods with the consignors is carried out within a defined time after the auction. A commission will be deducted from the surcharge. It is also common practice at some auction houses to invoice the consignor with an additional lot fee or fees for the illustration in the auction catalog. Some auction houses also charge the consignors an expense fee for the unsold lots. In addition, there are the insurance fees, which are usually based on the amount of the call with a fixed percentage. The consignor will also deduct any expenses incurred for certificates, transport costs or advances granted, including interest, from this credit note. The resulting remaining credit is then paid out to the consignor or offset against other invoices. The same sales tax regulations apply to the consignor billing as described above for the bidder invoices. Depending on the type of auction, this can also be very extensive and complex (e.g. in the case of an auction on behalf).

Unsold lots

Depending on the agreement between the consignor and the auction house, the unsold lots will be returned to the consignor either immediately after the auction or after the end of the post-sale phase. In many cases, however, the goods remain in the auction house and are called out again in the next auction at a (possibly) reduced value.

When burned those objects, often within a few months several times in auctions (possibly also different auction houses) are filed and are left lying. The cause is often an initially too high expectation of the seller, which is then interpreted by potential buyers as a (possibly hidden) defect. A normal market price can often only be achieved again after many years.

However, one of the tasks of an auction house is to inform the consignor about the achievable market value and to set a realistic starting price.

Lots that are offered again in an auction after a short time despite a successful bid also arouse suspicion. Here the suspicion arises that there is a hidden defect that the buyer has discovered and therefore wants to get rid of the object quickly. It also seems conceivable that a decoy unauthorized by the seller (or consignor) tried to drive the price up through bids, but unintentionally won the bid, so that the item is now being offered again.

Online auction

The online auction is held on the Internet . The best known organizer of online auctions is eBay ; are also known z. B. in Germany and in Switzerland . After the auction, the goods are usually shipped to the customer; Payment is usually made by bank transfer , cash on delivery or cash on collection. As an online auction in the broader sense, there are also so-called service auctions (e.g. ), in-house auctions, penny auctions, lowest price auctions and receivables auctions (titled receivables or receivables packages are auctioned). Some online platforms only offer auctions for a good cause (e.g. United Charity ).

Due to the large number of online auction houses and the resulting confusion, a wide range of services related to this type of auction has emerged. These include meta search engines for searching for offers, but also many service programs for creating offers offline and managing auctions. People who do not have their own computer or who do not have the time to start an Internet auction themselves can hand in their goods in special shops. They then auction the goods for a commission.

In Germany, an online auction is not an auction within the meaning of Section 156 BGB, so that sellers do not fall under the protection of this legislation. This can lead to fraud to the detriment of bona fide buyers.

Internet live auction

The Internet live auction is an officially authorized auction within the meaning of Section 156 of the German Civil Code and Section 34b of the Industrial Code (GewO), organized by an auction house over the Internet , in which all bids are digitally processed in real time. It is based on the model of traditional auctions, but participation within the meaning of Section 156 BGB is also possible using a personal computer , notebook , tablet PC and smartphone . Therefore, people present in the hall as well as people connected via the Internet can bid.

The best-known organizer of Internet live auctions was Auctionata AG in Berlin, which had to file for bankruptcy at the beginning of 2017 . The difference to online auctions is: a. in the legal protection of the auction, so that, in contrast to the typical eBay auction, buyers do not have a right of withdrawal under the distance contract . Internet live auctions are conducted by an auctioneer and transmitted via live stream over the Internet. Many smaller auction houses also offer this service (mostly via a network portal) so that not only customers in the hall, but also internet bidders can participate in an auction.

Order auction

The order auction , also known as a job auction or service auction , is a form of invitation to tender in which the customer wants a service provided by a craftsman, for example, and specifies a maximum price. Providers of the requested service try to undercut each other in order to get the order. As a result, the bids fall during the course of the auction - order auctions are reverse auctions . In the case of in-house auctions, various sub-units offer, for example to win the bid for the implementation of a production order. If an order auction is carried out on the Internet, one speaks of an e-reverse auction .

Different bid systems

Auctions can be classified according to different criteria.

One-sided and two-sided auctions

In the case of one-sided auctions, bids are either only submitted by prospective buyers or only by prospective sellers. In a two-sided auction, both buyer and seller bid and matching bids are matched. An example of a two-sided auction is an exchange .

Open and covert auctions

Participants in an open auction know which bids have been submitted so far (but possibly not by whom). The classic auction is an open auction. Open auctions can be ascending or descending .

Participants in a covert auction (also called a silent auction ) submit their bids without this knowledge. The bids are not called out, but rather secretly submitted - for example by post or in an urn. At an agreed time, the auction will be closed and the auction winner will be who has submitted the highest bid. If the bids are the same, the bidder of the previous one wins the bid. There are two variants of hidden auctions:

  • First price auction : In the first price sealed bid auction , also known as the maximum price auction , every customer submits a hidden bid. The best bid wins, and the winner pays for their bid.
  • Second price auction : In the second price sealed bid auction , also known as the Vickrey auction , the highest bidder is also awarded the bid, but only pays the amount of the second highest bid. The advantage of this auction over the first price auction is that it is advantageous for bidders to submit a bid equal to their true appreciation for the item to be auctioned, while they will bid lower in the first price auction in order to still have a profit if they are successful .

Ascending bids: English auction and Japanese auction

The English auction is the most popular form of auction. Starting from a set minimum price, bids are made in ascending order until no new bids are received. The last bidder wins.

In the Japanese auction, the auctioneer steadily increases the price while bidders gradually drop out until there is only one bidder left. Like the English auction, the auction is the strategic equivalent of the second-price auction .

Descending bids: reverse auctions

Dutch auction : The falling purchase price can be recognized by the pointer that turns clockwise

In a reverse auction , decreasing amounts are mentioned - the bids fall. Depending on the mode, either the highest price or the lowest possible price is sought:

  • In a Dutch auction , the amounts are in descending order until a first one deals with the current offer. In this case, it is determined which buyer is willing to pay the highest price . Because of the immediate knockdown, Dutch auctions are handled very quickly. This method is suitable for several articles of the same type, such as tobacco harvest heaps.
  • In order auctions , falling bids over a longer period of time determine which provider is ready to provide the service requested by the interested party for the lowest price . In practice (e.g. with MyHammer ) the client is sometimes not obliged to choose the provider with the lowest price. He is free to decide which provider to accept (good rating, proximity, etc. are also of great importance here). An e-reverse auction is a reverse auction that is held on the Internet. Order auctions and especially procurement auctions in the business-to-business area are usually carried out as e-reverse auctions.

Combinatorial auction

If there are several different goods for sale, an auction can allow bids that offer a price for several goods in their entirety . Such a combinatorial auction has the advantage that bidders are not exposed to the risk of only auctioning off a part of the goods they need that is worthless to them. Their disadvantage is that determining the winners is more complicated than with the classic single auction.

Special forms

American auction

In the case of an American auction , each bidder immediately pays the difference between his bid and the previous bid. This often generates income that is far above the value of the item to be auctioned. American auctions are usually conducted for charitable purposes.

The American auction is the most popular form of all-pay auction . In an all-pay auction, the bidder with the highest bid wins the bid, but all bidders pay.

Two bidders pay

In some business games for researching business psychological issues, the highest bidder is accepted and has to pay, but the bidder with the second highest bid must also pay his bid. This escalates the situation because the loser does not want to go away empty-handed. The bids often rise in unintentionally high areas.

Calcutta auction

A Calcutta auction is a combination of a lottery and an auction. The Calcutta auction is a type of bet that is particularly popular in the USA and the countries of the former British Empire and was invented for horse races in Calcutta .

Legal basis

In Germany an auction is regulated by § 156 BGB. In the case of commercial auctions, § 34b GewO and the regulation on commercial auctions also apply.

In principle, a valid contract is also concluded for so-called internet auctions.

The Frankfurt Higher Regional Court has also ruled that the terms “auction” or “auction” for sales against the highest bid on the Internet that are not in the context of auctions. S. v. § 34b GewO are, without the addition of further circumstances, are not misleading.

However, according to the case law of the Federal Court of Justice, these auctions are not auctions within the meaning of Section 156 of the German Civil Code (BGB), as there is no knockdown within the meaning of this provision. The auctioneer's declaration of intent is missing in internet auctions. § 156 BGB, § 34b GewO and the regulation on commercial auctions do not apply to Internet auctions . Internet auctions are therefore not covered by the exception regulation of § 312d Paragraph 4 No. 5 BGB - therefore, consumers are in accordance with § 13 BGB, who have concluded a distance contract with an entrepreneur in this way , generally have a right of withdrawal .

Likewise, it is not an auction in the sense of § 34b GewO, which is why no official permission is required to organize Internet auctions.

All auctions are prohibited from bidding or shill bidding (from shill: decoy, anreißer; to bid: to bid), in which a person engaged by the auctioneer (or consignor) tries as a decoy to increase the price by bidding float. In the early days of online auctions, this was a particular problem, as the anonymity meant that even the seller could bid on the items on offer via a second account. In the meantime, the online auction houses are trying to make possible unauthorized connections between individual members visible by displaying sales and bidding activity and thus exclude this form of fraud.

Activity as auctioneer

In contrast to other countries, there is no auctioneer in the classic sense in Germany, nor is there any training. Rather, auctioneers in Germany carry out a commercial activity that is subject to the trade regulations . An auctioneer license according to § 34b GewO is required, which can be requested from the regulatory office of the home authority. A specific professional qualification is not required. An auctioneer can also be appointed publicly upon request .

Professional appointment requirements for the public appointment and swearing-in of auctioneers:

Education of the auctioneer

The public order requires special expertise on the part of the auctioneer. Strict requirements must be placed on this expertise, including knowledge of the relevant legal provisions; A multi-year activity as an auctioneer or dealer does not in itself indicate any special expertise.

For auctioneers there are neither training regulations for a professional or commercial activity nor a relevant job description with appropriate training. This means that essentially the practical activity as an auctioneer has to provide the auctioneer with the appropriate knowledge about the breadth of the transactions occurring after the permission has been granted in accordance with Section 34b (1) GewO.

The necessary proof of practical work is provided by submitting the auction license in accordance with Section 34b (1) GewO. Proof of the auctions carried out in the past five years must also be submitted. A minimum number of auction advertisements in accordance with Section 5 of the Ordinance is not required, it depends on the degree of difficulty in the individual case and the sustained activity.

Working knowledge

The lists published in accordance with Section 4 of the Ordinance usually contain an estimated price. These are values ​​that have been determined by the auctioneer in the course of an estimate, unless an expert has made an estimate in the case of Section 3 of the Ordinance on the Act.

The estimated price and the minimum price agreed with the client must be in an appropriate relationship to one another. The auctioneer must therefore be able to assess the prices quoted by third parties on the basis of its own knowledge of the industry and goods. The trade regulations also provide for the public appointment and swearing-in for certain types of auctions ( Section 34b, Paragraph 5, 2nd Alt. GewO). Examples are auctioneers for industrial machines and tools or postage stamps. The level of expertise required for a public appointment is based on the relevant professional appointment requirements for experts in the relevant subject area.

Legal knowledge

Numerous legal regulations mention the public auction or the private sale by publicly appointed and sworn auctioneers. In-depth knowledge of the commercial regulations, in particular § 34b GewO and the auctioneer ordinance, are essential.

Proof of basic knowledge of those legal regulations that provide for the public auctioning of movable objects and securities or their private sale must be proven. In particular, it concerns the sale of pledges ( §§ 1228 ff. BGB, § 368 , §§ 397 ff. , § 410 , § 421 , § 440 HGB ) and the sale of movable items according to the regulations on the sale of pledges (§§ 731 , 753 , 1003 , 2022 , 2042 BGB, § 371 HGB) as well as the sale of movable property based on special legal authorizations (§§ 383 , 489 , 966 , 979 , 1219 BGB, §§ 373 , 376 , 379 , 388 , 391 , 407 , 417 , 437 HGB) and the private sale, where this is provided instead of the statutory auction (e.g. § 1221 BGB).

Auctioneers in the USA

Auctioneer in the USA with typical singsang (auction chant)

In the USA there are private auctioneer schools that teach the practical and legal basics of conducting an auction in the form of courses. Another special feature is that auctioneers at auctions permanent the current bid and the next highest bid expected in quick succession and for inexperienced bidders because of meaningless filler words (filler words) , the melody make repeat difficult to understand. The purpose of this measure is to encourage bidders to submit higher bids more quickly. This linguistic tradition is also taught and learned at auctioneer schools, with each auctioneer later developing his own style. This form of calling the bids, known in English as auction chant ( chant : 'Gesang' or 'Singsang'), is not widespread outside of the USA, Canada and South Africa.

See also


  • Friederike Sophie Drinkuth: The modern auction trade. The science of art and the art business. Böhlau Verlag, Cologne 2003, ISBN 3-412-13702-2 .
  • Hildegard Mannheims, Peter Oberem: Auction. On the cultural history of second-hand things. A research report. (Contributions to folk culture in northwest Germany, Volume 103). Waxmann, Münster a. a. 2003, ISBN 3-8309-1280-3 .

Web links

Commons : Auction  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wikiquote: Auction  - Quotes
Wiktionary: Auction  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. So z. For example, a painting by the English painter William Turner , which was valued at 20 million euros and was shown in various branches of the Sotheby's auction house: sotheby-s-koeln-provides-william-turners - ehrenbreitstein - from-26667248
  2. The Bad Tricks of the eBay Scammers. Computer image, April 2, 2008, accessed August 30, 2013 .
  4. See silent auction . ( Memento from January 27, 2012 in the Internet Archive )
  5. ^ Paul Milgrom: Putting Auction Theory to Work . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2005, ISBN 0-521-55184-6 , pp. 187 .
  6. BGHZ 149, 129
  7. OLG Frankfurt am Main, judgment of March 1, 2001 , Az. 6 U 64/00; Full text.
  8. BGH, judgment of November 3, 2004, Az. VIII ZR 375/03. Marg. 10.
  9. ^ BGH, judgment of November 7, 2001 , Az. VIII ZR 13/01; Full text
  10. ^ BGH, judgment of November 3, 2004 , Az. VIII ZR 375/03; Full text.
  11. Overview of auctioneer schools within the National Auctioneers Association of the USA, accessed on March 23, 2016.
  12. ^ Daniel W. Patterson: Arts in Earnest. North Carolina folklife . Duke University Press, Durham (North Carolina) 1989, ISBN 978-0-8223-1021-1 , p. 106.
  13. Introduction video from, accessed March 23, 2016.
  14. ^ Charles W. Smith: Auctions. The Social Construction of Value . University of California Press, Berkeley 1990, ISBN 978-0-520-07201-5 , pp. 116-118.
  15. ^ Charles W. Smith: Staging auctions: emabling exchange values ​​to be contested and established . In: Brian Moeran, Jesper Strandgaard Pedersen (Ed.): Negotiating Values ​​in the Creative Industries. Fairs, festivals and competitive events . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2011, ISBN 978-1-107-00450-4 , pp. 94 ff., Here pp. 100-103.