Looking at auction results is a great way to see the potential price your property may bring if sold at auction. However, it is important to keep in mind that there are many factors that go into what an item can bring at auction especially when the result is significantly under or over the estimate. Some questions that are helpful to think about when viewing an auction result are:
What was the estimate?
Is the result notably under or over the estimate?
Did the item fail to sell?
Why did the item fail to sell or why is the result under or over the estimate?
This last question is the most important and the most difficult to answer. Answers for the last question can range from being what time of year the auction was held, how the auction was publicized, what items were being offered in the auction and who attended the auction, etc. When an item fails to sell at auction or when an items sells far beyond the estimate, it is necessary to not assume the lack of a sale or the high price is standard and to be expected but to look for some insight.
The Maine Antique Digest is an excellent publication that offers auction recaps. Not only does the publication provide a lot of auction results, it also provides auction context. For example, in the June 7th, 2016 article, “Native American Art at Auction”, author Alice Kaufman writes about the auction held by Bonhams in San Francisco on June 6th and 7th, 2016. A specific item that sold for much higher than its auction estimate was a Kwakiutl totem pole. It had an estimate of $15,000-$25,000 and sold for $56,250 (including buyer's premium). Kaufman provides the context that there was actually a bidding war between two bidders for the totem pole which drove up the price.
Image courtesy of Bonhams: https://www.bonhams.com/auctions/23384/lot/184/
Without the context provided by the article, one might assume that all Kwakiutl totem poles will now sell for over $50,000. However, the article shows that the totem pole achieved such a high value because of who happened to be attending the auction. This example illustrates the importance of seeking insight into specific auctions for when a result is very different than an estimate.