Auction reserve

I was just moments ago asked to comment on Profiles in History’s policy on auction reserves. As long as I have been working at Profiles–and as most astute bidders and consignors alike know–the rule of thumb is that the low estimate is 99% of the time the reserve. The instances where that is not the case are few and far in between. For further proof that is the case, just look at the starting bid on the online listings at iCollector or LiveAuctioneers. The opening bid, if there is no other bid, is the winning bid.

Of course, all rules have exceptions. There are cases where you might see on the final prices realized that the winning bid appear to be below the pre-sale estimate. Those are usually cases where the auctioneer, with approval from the consignor, lowers the reserve on the spot. You can see this at the end of the recently ended Animation Auction. Lots 906 & 907 both sold for $75 each, which in both cases is below the pre-sale estimates of $100-200.

I know that Profiles in History’s terms and conditions are long and tedious. They were compiled by an attorney after all, so what do you expect? However, I have always understood that the conditions of sale offer a guideline, for which common practice and common sense can and do trump.

Any talk of theatrics is non-sense when it comes to Stacey Roman, who I wholeheartedly think is the greatest auctioneer in the business. An auctioneer is the master of ceremony at the auction. He needs to be cognizant of tempo and pace. When there is a lull in the bidding, Stacey will sometime start the bidding a couple of clicks below the low estimate just to rev up the auction. No one does it better than Stacey, as he deftly manages hours and hours of bidding with grace and entertainment and without a backup auctioneer to offer respite of any kind.


  1. Jim says:


    Sadly some people have an agenda, and sometimes that agenda may take precedence to truly being fair and impartial. So much so that information presented as fact is wrong due to shoddy research. Damage can also be done when untrue comments or statements are made in order to get point across. Again, it’s sad.

    Stacey is one of the best at his job and anyone that says otherwise is clueless.

    Additionally it’s no secret that most major auction houses have reserves, and the way they are implemented can vary depending on the auction and or auction house. No secret there.

  2. jdebord says:

    Hi Fong,

    Thank you for the clarification.

    I assume this is with regards to the RPF topic started by someone else, which I found inadvertently, as I was notified of it via an article I wrote on my own site that was “pinged” back via link posted by another member there, and the topic opened up to a number of topics related to live auctions in general, creating a lively discussion.

    Question: you say “talk of theatrics is non-sense”… so my question is why don’t auction houses simply start the bidding at the reserve? I’m not talking exclusively about Profiles in History, but all auction houses. Why have bidding – including what amounts to pretend bidding – at levels below the “confidential reserve” if, as you state in your case, “the low estimate is 99% of the time the reserve”. If the low estimate is the reserve 99% of the time, why not just start with that? I’ve never understood this practice in the auction business at large. What would be the downside of starting bidding at the actual reserve (low estimate)? And if the reserve is the low estimate 99% of the time, why is it “confidential”?

    Getting back to theatrical… I find it a little funny that your live auctions and bidding are now part of an entertainment television product, and you are not comfortable with the word theatrical. I have a bunch of these shows on my TiVo (unwatched), and I just fast forwarded to the end of one of the episodes as an example to see, and the auction and live bidding were the climax of the episode, and were edited with lulls in the action, suspense, music, no bidding, then frantic bidding, audience/consignor/PiH reaction shots, etc., I presume in an attempt to create drama for this television presentation? I don’t know if what I watched was a “real” auction or something produced for television, but it appeared to be presented in this episode for dramatic effect.


    1. of or pertaining to the theater or dramatic presentations: theatrical performances.

    Even with your description of this pre-reserve bidding – “to rev up the auction” – to me that sounds theatrical, but maybe you have a different association with the word than I do.

    As always, thank you for the thoughtful dialogue – I always appreciate your inside view and perspective on public questions and debates about the business. Much of how things work can be a mystery to the public, so any such discourse I think is very beneficial to collectors and consumers at large.

    Jason DeBord

  3. Fong Sam says:

    Hey, Jason. Thanks for the dictionary’s definition of “theatrical.” I wish you could see me roll my eyes as I type this. I was not conveying that I was uncomfortable with theatrics, only that when you associate it with Stacey Roman.

    What is really funny is that you know Profiles starts the bidding at the reserve, since you have both purchased and consigned with Profiles in the past. Even if you didn’t, all you have to do is watch the auction. In fact, I invite everyone to come to a Profiles auction to see for yourself.

    As for the reserve being confidential, that is not true at all. The reserve for each lot is shown in the listings online. I can’t speak for other auction houses, but Profiles does not hide the reserves. Anyone who has ever asked me or Brian Chanes directly will know that we have never shied away from letting people know.

    • jdebord says:

      Hey Fong, at least I can still make you smile! That makes me smile!

      I wasn’t directing the word “theatrical” toward your auctioneer, but the auction process in general, with all of it’s participants, its rules, and how it all unfolds. Actually, if you go back to my initial use of the word on the RPF, (that you reacted to) you’ll see that I was not even talking about Profiles in History at all, but live auctions in general (and to get really technical, I used the word “theatrics”, not “theatrical”):

      It was in response to another member there talking about live auctions in general and a theoretical scenario. I never mentioned Stacey Roman, I don’t know Stacey Roman, and what I’ve seen (if it is the same auctioneer) of his auctioneering is limited to the Hollywood Treasure television series, and the very few episodes I’ve watched. Believe it or not, I’ve never attended ANY of your live auction events in person.

      Having said all that, I find the presentation of your auctions on the Hollywood Treasure television program – the few episodes I’ve seen – to be quite theatrical. I’ve even had a few people that appeared as bidders on the show tell me that the edit showed them bidding on items that they never actually bid on. But maybe I need to divorce what I’ve seen on the television show from reality, if it is in fact different? Unfortunately, my experience with your “in the room” auction is limited to what I’ve seen in a few episodes of the Hollywood Treasure television series.

      This PiH tweet from a few hours ago made me smile, as the first word to come to my mind was, well…

      Anyway, regarding the “confidential” reserve (and your comment above – “[a]s for the reserve being confidential, that is not true at all”) that is what is published in your catalog, not something I invented or imagined. If that isn’t accurate anymore, maybe you should update your Conditions of Sale and Auction General Guidelines in your catalog, because that is how it is phrased in both sections:


      “Lots may be subject to a reserve which is the confidential minimum price below which the lot will not be sold.”


      “The reserve is the minimum price the seller is willing to accept and below which a lot will not be sold. This amount is confidential and will not exceed the low pre-sale estimate.”


      And if someone has to contact you to know the reserve, and you don’t have any problem sharing it, why not just publish it? I’m a little confused still as to where it is published, as you also suggested it was published for every lot in your last comment. I’m looking at one of your online listings right now, and I don’t see the reserve listed, but maybe I’m blind and totally missing it?

      Lastly, I’m still a little confused, as in your last reply you said, “[w]hat is really funny is that you know Profiles starts the bidding at the reserve…” (which I actually don’t know) …but in your original article above, you stated:


      “There are cases where you might see on the final prices realized that the winning bid appear to be below the pre-sale estimate. Those are usually cases where the auctioneer, with approval from the consignor, lowers the reserve on the spot.”


      Is the consignor present in these instances to lower the reserve on the spot? Or does the bidding stop and somehow PiH gets in touch with the consignor? Or do you come back to the lot later? Or is this one of the 1% of lots where the reserve is not the low estimate, and is confidential? Except you had said in your last reply, “[t]he reserve for each lot is shown in the listings online”. Or to call. And some of this is obviously not consistent with your terms in your catalog.

      Not trying to nit pick you, but I’m actually more confused than when we began this discussion.

      In any event, as always, I appreciate the dialogue, in my continuing efforts to understand as much about this business as I can. And I know you are busy, so no urgency in publishing a response (or requirement to respond at all). Just wanted to clarify a bit about what I had said, and obviously continue to seek some clarification myself on these questions about the process.

      Jason DeBord

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