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Auctioneer William Robinson Discloses Some of his Trade Secrets

William Robinson gives us some insights of his life as an auctioneer and the importance of understanding the financial side of auctioneering.

William Robinson, auctioneer and International Head of Group, Christie’s London discloses some of his trade secrets and the importance of practice, in the profession.


  • I never wanted to be an auctioneer. I wanted to be a specialist because I love art, culture and art history. But, on the other hand, I love theatre and since I was a little boy, I was used to standing up and performing in front of people. When I grew up, I even pursued some amateur dramatics and the process of theatre is something I have always been fascinated with. But I don’t think I am a good actor and that is why I did not take that ahead. I am good at just being myself.


  •  Whenever someone asks what the preparation process is, I always stress on the importance of research. You have to know the item you are selling really well. You have to be aware of the details. After that, you need to be alert about all the bids that are in front of you and those happening via telephone and on the internet. Feel free to make notes on the auctioneer’s book. Refer to it when required.


  •  Understanding the financial side of auctioneering is crucial. The reserve is set on each piece and that is the minimum amount below which you cannot sell. You have to coordinate the commission bids with due etiquette (if two people are sitting right behind each other, call them out by what they are wearing to avoid confusion!) and also understand that commission bids have precedence over telephonic and online bidding. Strike the right balance between these variables and most importantly, tease more bids out of the audience.


  •  Having stage presence is essential too. It is all a show at the end of the day and you have to be both entertaining and alert. Stand straight, smile, move around and command respect. You can share a few quips and make them laugh but also remember that this is serious business. Earlier, there used to be some very dull auctioneers. It does not work anymore. You need to create that tension which the audience is looking for in an exciting auction. After all, it is a performance.


  •  Practice, practice and practice. Nothing beats this old school charm. You get better and better with more auctions and with experience you also gain insight into the kind of auctioneer you want to be.


  •  Different auctioneers have different styles. They individually decide, over the years, how they would like to play it out on stage. An element of yourself comes out when you are the auctioneer. So, how you choose to engage with the audience is completely your decision.


  •  I still get nervous before an important auction. And I think it is a good thing. If an actor is not nervous before going up on stage, he has given up.


  •  The worst mistake an auctioneer can make would be to either sell something below the reserve or failing to see a commission bid. That is just inacceptable.


  •  The most expensive sale I auctioned was this 17th century Persian carpet which was a piece of sheer beauty. It was such a memorable and exciting auction.