Anatomy of an Auction: What Is a ‘Cut’ Bid?

Anatomy of an Auction

Anatomy of an Auction

QUESTION: What is the universal signal from bidder to auctioneer   means  that “cut your opening dollar amount in half?” I thought it was when you took your bid card and kind of waved it sideways at the auctioneer with a cutting motion.

A Reader

ANSWER: “I’m bid 50 . . . now 100 . . . I’m bid 50 here will he give a hundred, now 100? . . . Awright, sir, then 75 . . . 75 ? 100, and 100, I wanna 100 . . .”

There’s nothing like a melodic chant of the auctioneer to grab one’s interest and capture the imagination. Passing from the lips of an expert, the chant has a magnetic appeal that is addicting to some and enjoyed by all. It lures bidders to the sale and encourages them to covet offerings as varied as the creations of man. And when done right, it emboldens them to spar with their bids to gain the final victory—offering the winning bid! But to play the game you must understand what’s going on.

Our auctioneer was calling for a $100 bid when a man gave him $75. How did that happen? He received a “cut” bid. So what does that mean? Like the questioner noted, it means the bidder signals the auctioneer that he will offer half the increment the auctioneer is asking for. Here, half of the “jump” from the $50 bid to the $100 sought is $75.

The “slice” the questioner described is made whit either the hand (or the bid card) and it’s a widely recognized signal for “cut” bids. It can be made in front of or beside the bidder. By example, if the auctioneer has a bid for $20 and is calling for $25, a bidder’s “cut bid” signal indicates the bidder’s willingness to bid $22.50. Some bidders with a particular flair for drama make the cut across their throats. That one always gets your attention.

Another signal for a cut bid is to hold the hand up and press the end of the thumb against the last joint in the index finger. You might practice that but remember, I said the index finger.


QUESTION: I always hear from non-dealers that they don’t like some auctions because there are too many dealers who drive the prices up. It seems dealers would only pay wholesale, so non-dealers should almost always get a good deal, unless they are bidding against each other. Any thoughts on this?

A Fellow Virginian

ANSWER: Dealers who buy to resell can never outbid serious buyers who buy for their collections, so long as profit remains the objective. Dealers have to buy wholesale so they can mark their merchandise up sufficiently to cover their costs and then sell at, or near, retail and make a profit. It’s just simple arithmetic and basic business. Auctioneers say serious bidders will pay retail, dealers will pay wholesale, and some bottom bidders are the same as “No Sale!”


— by Steve Proffitt

Steve Proffitt is an auctioneer and attorney at law He is the general counsel with The Motley’s Auction Group and an instructor Reppert School of Auctioneering.

© Copyright John Stephen Proffitt III

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