J. Bear Savo

BEHIND THE BLOCK: Auction jargon judgements

BEHIND THE BLOCK: Auction jargon judgements
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Every industry has its jargon; auctioneering is no exception. Block, gavel, hammer price… blah, blah, blah. Most auction vocabulary causes me no distress. There are, however, four words that vex me, not because they exist, but because of the muddled rules and sometimes flagrant disregard about how to spell them. So I am laying down the law and deciding once and for all their proper orthography. Please bear in mind that my judgments regarding these words are hardly scientific and only sometimes rooted in concrete grammatical rules. In truth, they are verdicts based mostly on my own obsessive-compulsive tendencies. Also, I am the only auctioneer anywhere writing about such trifles. So until one of my colleagues bothers to compose a rebuttal to the following assertions, let’s just accept them as correct.

CONTENDERS: Boxlot vs. Box Lot

WINNER: Boxlot

REASON: A boxlot is a box that is filled with merchandise and sold for one price. So if a bunch of stuff is grouped into a cardboard carton and offered as a whole, why then should the term that describes it be two words? Box lot is existentially contradictory and aesthetically unpleasant. So boxlot it is.

CONTENDERS: Primitive vs. Primative

WINNER: Primitive

REASON: If you try to search “primative” on dictionary.com, you will be asked, “Did you mean primitive?” So primAtive isn’t even a legitimate alternative spelling of primitive. Still, there are auctioneers who will spell it with that middle “A” when describing handmade furnishings crafted by American farmers between the mid-1750s and the early 1800s. Besides primAtive being officially incorrect, the phonetically appealing assonance of primitive makes it the winner.

CONTENDERS: Collectible vs. Collectable

WINNER: Both… Well, kinda…

REASON: Unlike primative, collectable is a valid alternative spelling of collectible. However, I feel that when they are spelled differently, they should mean different things. Just like affect (verb) and effect (noun) are different parts of speech centered around a concept, so should it be with collectible and collectable. Indeed, collectible should be a noun, an object within a collection. Collectable should be an adjective that describes an object capable of being collected. Confusing? Yes, but the English language and auctioneering are two of the most confusing things on the planet, so this idea dovetails.

CONTENDERS: Saleable vs. Sellable

WINNER: Marketable

REASON: Sellable is not a word. Nope. Something is saleable (or even salable), not sellable. My anger over this phonetic travesty, combined with the fact that saleable or salable looks absolutely ridiculous when written out, compels me to use the word marketable.

So there you have it: the four pieces of auction jargon that get me twisted and my solutions for each. I certainly welcome the opinions of other auctioneers or antique dealers. Should a symposium need to be held, I’m sure NEPA Scene would be willing to provide the forum for a public debate between dissenters.

Author’s note: The photograph heading this article comes courtesy of Carlo Savo. It shows a boxlot of vintage erotica magazines that sold at Savo Auctioneers for $400, proving just how marketable pin-up collectibles are.


Pin-up? Pin up? Pinup?

… Dammit!

There’s far more to being a professional auctioneer than merely marketing merchandise. Each Wednesday, Behind the Block explores the precise methods, the elemental madness, and the intrinsic humanity of the auction industry.