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Organising An Auction

(with acknowledgements to Jack L Chalker)

An auction is usually an extra source of income for the convention, which takes 10-15% of the selling price of each item. Usually a convention takes no fee from items auctioned for charity. Auctioned material usually consists of artwork, books, fanzines or memorabilia. The auction also provides the con with a popular programme item or items.

Publishers may donate books in return for the publicity, or writers may be persuaded to part with scripts, or manuscripts. Dealers will often contribute books for auction. Make sure that everything being auctioned can be viewed beforehand as this increases people's awareness of the auction and they come prepared to bid for what they want.

Usually art must be auctioned off at the end of the con as it is part of the Art Show, and this is when people have least money. Attach bidding slips to artwork on which people can write their name and bid before the actual auction. Other material can, of course, be sold earlier in the convention.

Organising the material

Make sure that every lot is labelled with the name of the donor, any reserve price, and, if it is artwork, the medium, whether an original or print, and the title. If time permits, a catalogue should be made of the items and each given a number.

Another catalogue should be made up for the committee's use which shows the name and address of the donor, the minimum bid, the title of the work, and the catalogue number so that when it is sold the selling price can be written on the sheet and the owner paid accordingly. One word of warning: never catalogue anything you don't physically have in your hands; it may not turn up.

People required

An auctioneer, a cashier, someone to handle the records, and runners to display the material and collect the money. It also helps if there is someone feeding the material to the auctioneer, especially if it is not sorted and catalogued. Make sure that the cashier has plenty of change in a cashbox, and possibly a calculator, and that the recordkeeper has a pen! If the auction lasts more than an hour then have a second auctioneer to allow the first one to rest.

Advice for the Auctioneer

This should be someone who has done a good job at previous cons. You require a good speaking voice, a non-abrasive personality, experience at speaking in public, an enjoyment of performing, common sense, showmanship, honesty, energy. You must remember that you are working for the sellers, trying for the highest price possible, but without cheating the public - give honest descriptions of articles, but don't denigrate them if they are of inferior quality in your opinion; they may be someone else's masterpiece.

The auctioneer should note what kind of items are selling well and keep them coming, even if they are taken out of order. Keep pushing new things and promise more to come. Keep your audience. If expensive items are not getting their reserve prices, withdraw them quickly; don't abuse the audience for lacking cash!

Advice for the Bidder

Decide in advance what your spending limit is and stick to it. Paying cash helps with this approach. If you do bid, make your bid obvious - shout loud and clear as the auctioneer may have three or four bids called simultaneously. If the bids are going up in small amounts early on a big jump may frighten off the competition and secure the item, but don't give a massive jump late in the game as a, say, 5 jump from 30 to 35 has less impact than one from 5 to 10.

Artists especially appreciate a convention paying cash at the end of the auction, it saves a long walk home!


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This page updated on 09 July 1999