Art market terms – a glossary
If you are new to the art market you may find this list of terms frequently used by Antiques Trade Gazette helpful.
When a work of art or an object is described as ‘after’ a known artist or maker, this means it was created as a copy by an unidentified artist of a named work by a known artist.
Artist’s Resale Right
Living artists and the descendants of artists deceased within the last 70 years are entitled to receive a resale royalty each time their work is sold. The charge applies to the sale of original works of art made via transactions conducted by both dealers and auctioneers.
Antiques Trade Gazette, the weekly newspaper and associated website.
The British Antique Dealers’ Association (BADA) is a trade association founded in 1918.
Books and Works on Paper
Can you tell your foxing from your deckle edge? Download a PDF of ATG's handy guide to some of the terms used in the books and works on paper collecting field.
A charge made by the auctioneer to the buyer as a percentage of the hammer price. This fee is usually subject to VAT.
The United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) controls the trade in endangered species. Its regulations cover "parts and derivatives" of endangered species as well as live specimens and encompass a range of materials found in antiques and taxidermy such as ivory, tortoiseshell, and furniture fashioned from some tropical hardwood.
When a vendor agrees to sell a work via an auction house, they are said to have ‘consigned’ a work for sale. Also see ‘Vendor’ below.
A contemporary artwork is an object or picture made by a living artist. However, an auction titled as ‘Contemporary art’ will often also feature works by artists working in the second half of the 20th century but now deceased.
When buyers make purchases across different collecting categories, this is known as ‘crossover buying’. For example, when a collector buys both Contemporary art and Old Masters.
This term refers to three-dimensional antiques including ceramics, glass, silver and furniture, that serve a decorative as well as functional purpose. In this way, it is different to ‘Fine art’ and ‘Works of art’.
Object described as ‘entry-level’ are those aimed at buyers new to the art and antiques market and priced at the lower end of the price range for that category.
The price or price range displayed alongside the catalogue description of an item in an auction, indicating the value at which the auctioneer believes the lot might sell. In ATG we often use ‘guide’, ‘expectations’ or ‘hopes of’ to mean ‘estimate’.
When ATG refers to dates when fairs are taking place, we quote the days which the event is open to the public. Unless stated, these do not include invitation-only preview events.
A phrase used by an auctioneer from the rostrum to indicate the gavel is about to fall and bidders are being given a ‘fair warning’ that this is their last chance to bid if they wish to do so.
The term ‘Fine art’ refers to visual art produced primarily for aesthetic purposes. It generally comprises paintings, watercolours, drawings, photography and sculpture.
However, many auction houses describe some of their sales as ‘Fine Art Auctions’ simply to distinguish them from ‘General sales’ to imply the lots on offer are of higher value.
Fresh to Market
An item that comes to sale having not been offered recently at all? is said to be ‘fresh to the market’.
Such objects are sometimes referred to as ‘unseen’, meaning that potential buyers are unlikely to be familiar with them, and they tend to have greater appeal due to their ‘freshness’.
The implement used by an auctioneer to knock down on the rostrum to indicate that the bidding on a lot has finished. Also known as a ‘hammer’.
A general sale is an auction usually offering lower value lots – often from house clearances and held weekly.
The price at which a lot is knocked down at an auction. The auction house will then add buyer’s premium and other charges on top of this amount.
International Antiques and Collectors Fairs is the company that organises large fairs that take place regularly at Newark, Shepton Mallet, Ardingly, Newbury and Alexandra Palace.
In ATG ‘international’ refers to markets outside of the UK
In ATG, we often say a lot was ‘knocked down” at a certain price. This represents the level to which the lot was bid when the auctioneer knocked down their gavel (ie. the hammer price – see above).
A trade association for UK antiques dealers formed in 1974. It was previously called the London and Provincial Antique Dealers Association and now it retains the LAPADA acronym as its title.
A term referring to objects made in the middle part of the 20th century, particularly from 1950 to 1970.
Items that lie between the lower and top-end are described as ‘middle market’. For many antiques, this generally means works that are quite rare but not exceptional and tend to fetch prices in the mid-ranking price bracket of their given category.
The modern art market comprises objects and pictures that stylistically represent a departure from traditional conventions regarding form and academic approach. It generally covers 20th century works that contrast to Old Masters and Victorian paintings for example.
The National Association of Valuers and Auctioneers is a professional self-regulating trade association for valuers and auctioneers across property, fine art and chattels.
These terms are generally used in the coins market to refer to the different sides of an object. The obverse is the side with the head, face, figure or larger image, while the reverse is the other side usually featuring a separate design.
The patina refers to the surface of furniture, bronze or other materials on three-dimensional antiques and works of art. The qualities present in the patina are often a key determinant of value.
This is a term that relates to French auction law where museums have the right to purchase items at the price established by the bidding.
Since 1921 French museums and institutions have been able to ‘pre-empt’ any lot immediately after the sale, buying it at the hammer price (plus premium).
The hammer price plus the buyer’s premium due on an item sold at auction. This figure does not include VAT or other buyer’s fees added by the saleroom.
Bidders at auction and collectors who are not dealers or ‘trade’ buyers are referred to as private buyers.
A private transaction brokered by an auctioneer between two [often undisclosed] parties. This type of sale contrasts with a public auction where bidding can be viewed and prices are available.
‘Provincial’ auctions or the ‘Regional’ market refer to sales taking place in locations around the United Kingdom as opposed to at the major London auction houses of Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Phillips and Bonhams.
When ATG uses these terms, we generally include sales in Edinburgh and the mid-market salerooms in London.
This term refers to the history of ownership of an object. An item with a long and documented history to a prestigious family or well-known collector, for example, would be said to have good provenance and therefore be more desirable.
See ‘Provincial’ above
This term is related to the conservation of art. It generally refers to paintings on canvas which have had a new backing canvas attached to the original.
The new lining on the back is applied due to the original canvas becoming weak or brittle and requiring strengthening or consolidating. This is often carried out when the paint on the original have begun to flake or crack.
The price agreed between the vendor and auctioneer, below which the auctioneer will not sell the lot. Some vendors agree to sell at "the auctioneer's discretion" - for example when it is difficult to set a reserve due to the type of lot being sold.
The room where an auction takes place is referred to as ‘the saleroom’. The phrase can also be used as a general term for auctions, for example: “The painting was making its third saleroom appearance in three years”.
The percentage of lots in an auction that sold on the day or days when the auction was held. This figure usually provides a good indication of the market’s reaction to the items in the sale, although sometimes where reserves are set at low levels (as the vendor is keen to sell the items for example) this might not be the case.
A single-owner sale refers to an auction that comprises solely items from one source. It is often a prominent collection which is deemed significant enough to form a separate event with its own catalogue. Examples have included Christie’s sale of the Yves Saint Laurent collection in Paris in 2009 and the auction of the collection of David and Peggy Rockefeller in New York in 2018.
A sleeper is an object that is undervalued at the time it is offered for sale. Experts that are on the look-out for sleepers at auction are sometimes called sleeper spotters. While some sleepers pass through auctions unnoticed, others are spotted by two or more parties and may make a spectacular price over estimate.
The Society of Fine Art Auctioneers and Valuers (SOFAA) was formed in 1973 to represent fine art and antiques auctioneers and valuers in the UK.
This term refers to dealers taking a stand and setting up at a fair.
TEFAF stands for ‘The European Fine Art Fair’. It is an organisation that runs some of the world’s leading art and antiques fairs: TEFAF Maastricht, which takes place annually in March, and TEFAF New York which takes place twice a year in the autumn and spring.
The website thesaleroom.com is an online global auction platform which allows visitors to search and browse auction catalogues and place bids over the internet in real time.
It is wholly owned by Auction Technology Group, the parent company of Antiques Trade Gazette, and provides some of the data used in ATG each week.
Dealers. An object sold at auction to ‘the trade’ is one that was purchased by a dealer.
The seller who consigns an object or collection to an auction or dealer.
Verso / Recto
The terms ‘verso’ and ‘recto’ refer to different sides of a picture or book. Generally, verso refers to the back, while recto refers to the front. For books, the right-hand page of an open book is called the recto, while the left-hand side is known as the verso (also see Obverse / Reverse above).
The process that takes place at a fair to ensure items offered are suitable for the event. This usually relates to the checking of items to make sure they are properly attributed, described and dated. Some fairs also apply a dateline, meaning that objects are vetted to ensure they are of the requisite age to be exhibited.
A term referring to both objects and fashion to describe the style or quality of the item. A piece of vintage fashion is likely to have been made by a designer at least 20 years ago, while a ‘vintage’ piece of Lalique glassware or Gillows furniture implies it is a high quality or rare item in the maker’s trademark style.
In the car market, a vintage car refers to a model no longer in production, typically made between World War One and World War Two.
With wine, ‘vintage’ applies to grapes grown and harvested in a single specified year.
White glove sale
An auction in which all of the lots are sold (ie. a 100% selling rate) is called a ‘white glove’ sale.
Works of art
In the art and antiques market, a ‘work of art’ is specific category comprising a small three-dimensional objects which have artistic quality. They are different from fine art and decorative art (see above).
Small sculptures, Art Deco figures, wall plaques and enamel objects are examples of ‘works of art’.