Antique doll

by Dr. Lori Verderame

Have you ever been to an estate auction? Many people like estate auctions for the varied antique offerings, the excitement of the crowd, or the fast-talking auctioneer.

What is an Auction Box Lot?

One tool that an estate auction uses to keep an auction moving along is the box lot. Box lots contain many different items combined into one lot. The box lot method lets auction houses liquidate many miscellaneous items quickly. Box lots can offer great finds for bidders, but the heirs of an estate selling a myriad of antiques and even the auction house can lose quite a bit of money on a box lot.

Auction Box Lot Bargains

DollFor years, people have brought numerous valuable items to my antiques appraisal events that were purchased in box lots. For instance, I remember an audience member who purchased a box lot for $12 that included a lithograph signed by Charles Lindbergh worth $1,200 among other things. Another appraisal event audience member purchased a $5 box lot with an 1875 Asian porcelain doll inside which was worth $3,500!

Box Lot Losers

Great news for those people who find those box lot bargains, but what if those items were in your grandma’s house and incorrectly considered worthless by an auction house representative and dumped into a box lot? The auction house staff just overlooked and relegated this valuable stuff to a box lot of miscellaneous rejects. I bet you would have a few pointed questions for the estate auction house representative.

While the bidders bought them fair and square, the heir of grandma’s estate lost $4,700 on those two items. Grandma’s heirs lost significant money because the auction house didn’t realize that it was placing valuable items into a box lot and selling it off for peanuts. And, the estate and heirs weren’t the only losers here, the auction house also lost its commission on that sale, which could be as high as 50% (35% from the seller and 15% from the buyer) or $2,350 on these box lot mistakes.

For the lucky box lot bidder with the porcelain doll, spending $5 to make $3,500 is a good return on investment. But, if you are trying to raise money for your grandma’s estate, then you certainly want to know why that valuable 19th Century doll wasn’tt advertised by the auction house and placed into an auction where a doll collector might be enticed to pay close to its actual $3,500 value.

Sure, that old saying is true — You shouldn’t sweat the small stuff, but that only applies when you are sure that the stuff you are not sweating is actually small.

Learn more tips about how auctions work.