From cattle to Caravaggio, an auctioneer’s speed matters.

If you ask the average man or woman on the street to describe their mental picture of an auctioneer, many will say, “Someone who wears a cowboy hat and talks real fast.” 

That image of auctioneers has been portrayed for decades, but in reality, auctioneers come in several different, but equally effective, packages. It is true that many auctions you attend will have an auctioneer with a cowboy hat and a very rapid chant. You will usually find those auctioneers selling livestock, farm and ranch equipment or other items typically associated with agriculture or construction. Later that day you may attend a commercial real estate auction where the auctioneer is dressed in a finely tailored suit, is absent any headwear and is employing a much slower and more deliberate chant. As the evening wears on, you may find yourself at an art gallery auction where the female auctioneer is dressed in conservative business attire and whose auction chant borders on conversational. 

Why the difference?

Most auctioneers tailor their chant and style to fit the client and customer they are selling to and selling for. For instance, if you attend a cattle auction with 1,000 head of cattle being offered, you are more likely to appreciate that auctioneer moving at a rapid pace in order to get through the offering and be respectful of everyone’s time. To accomplish that objective, he or she may run the auction at a pace of 150 head per hour. That translates to one animal sold every 40 seconds. Many of the bidders at these type of auctions are professional buyers and they appreciate and expect the pace to be rapid and efficient. There are also benefits for the seller if the auctioneer can build market momentum and create a greater sense of urgency by inciting the bidders to place their bids quickly before a competing bidder beats them to the punch.  

On the opposite end of the auction spectrum, a fine art auction for instance, will usually take on a completely different flavor. The auctioneer most likely will be an expert in the style or period of art being offered and will use that expertise to accentuate the value of the art being offered. It may take 1 to 2 minutes just to describe the style, history and essence of a particular work of art. The auctioneer’s chant is more likely to follow suit and slow down to an almost conversational style of auctioneering. 

There are exceptions to every rule, but if the above mentioned cattle auctioneer were to attempt to sell the fine art auction in the style and pace used to efficiently auction off 1,000 head of cattle, he would most likely meet with failure. By the same token, if the fine art auctioneer were to attempt a livestock auction at the pace and style of a fine art auction, buyers would most likely get up and leave. 

Therein lies the difference. 

Doak Lambert, CAS, auctioneer at Lambert Auction Co., contributed to this article.

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