J. Bear Savo

BEHIND THE BLOCK: Stealthy bidding techniques

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The auction business encompasses far more than the stuff that’s offered up for bid. There are precise methods, an elemental madness, and an intrinsic humanity that are inherent in the industry. My name is J. Bear Savo, auctioneer and co-owner of Savo Auctioneers, LLC in Archbald. Each week, Behind the Block will explore the facets of auctioneering that are often unconsidered, even by industry insiders.

For example, one would think that bidding at an auction is rather straightforward. Indeed, first-time auction attendees will often ask me how to bid. I tell them that when they wish to bid on an item that they should raise their bidding cards high into the air, and then when they wish to advance the bidding, they should continue to raise their cards or nod distinctly when the auctioneer looks to them. However, some veteran auction-goers adopt bidding techniques that are designed for discretion. Dealers and collectors that regularly attend auctions sometimes feel that they have to mask the fact that they are bidding for two reasons:

  • Spite: Animosity can often develop between dealers or between collectors. Some feel that if their bids are obvious that they will be bid against because they are disliked by certain members of an auction crowd.
  • Shadows: Experienced dealers sometimes claim that they are bid against by inexperienced dealers because the newbies don’t really know what to buy and what not to buy. Not wanting to divulge their knowledge and be “shadowed” by the rookies, the seasoned dealers attempt to hide their bids.

Whether the aforementioned reasons for covert bidding are substantial or pure paranoia is debatable. As an auctioneer, it has been my experience that people will bid on what they want, when they want, regardless of bid visibility. Nevertheless, many auction-goers employ stealthy bidding techniques. Here are several of my favorites:

The Wink

This is by far the most common way to conceal a bid. Therefore, in social settings – such as a cocktail party or a bar – people should never attempt to flirt with auctioneers by winking at them. It will only cause confusion.

The Nanonod

A nanosecond is one billionth of a second, and a nanonod is one billionth of a nod. This virtually imperceptible action is preceded by extremely solemn eye contact. Other than auctioneers, the nanonod is only recognized as an expression of affirmation by an elite few, such as secret agents and ninjas.

The Move-stache

This clandestine bidding technique is used only by those with bushy mustaches (usually men) and occurs when the bidder purses his lips and waves at the auctioneer with his whiskers. Sometimes, those without mustaches will use a similar technique called the “kissy face.”

The Back-Scratch

Secretive bidders will sometimes turn away from the auctioneer and reach behind themselves as if they are going to scratch their backs. However, instead of raking their nails over an itch, they make some kind of gesture to communicate a bid. This technique is a favorite among retired third base coaches.

The Pant-Pull

Many auctioneers perch themselves upon podiums while selling. The pant-pull bid occurs when a bidder stands behind the auctioneer and bids by tugging on one of the auctioneer’s pant legs. Possible negative results of this technique are obvious and embarrassing.

The Molestation

Similar to the previous, but instead of tugging on the auctioneer’s pant leg, the bidder pokes, prods, pinches, and/or slaps the auctioneer’s legs and buttocks. As a means of stealthy bidding, this technique may be self-defeating depending upon the auctioneer’s reaction.

And so we auctioneers need to be interpreters of sorts. While we’re chanting and scanning the crowd, we sometimes need to determine if we’re receiving bids or amorous invitations to an after-hours romp. If bidders want to unequivocally assure that their desire for an item not be mistaken as desire for the auctioneer, I suggest they just use their bidding cards.

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.