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The European elections operate by a somewhat complex system of proportional representation instead of the first-past-the-post arrangement used for local and general elections in this country.

The exercise of this last week reminded me that not all auction systems are the same either.

Traditionally, as we know, the auctioneer will offer a lot at a starting price and then accept bids on it as the sums offered rise. Assuming the eventual bid is above the reserve – or at least within the range agreed for the auctioneer’s discretion – when the hammer falls the lot is sold.

However, other methods include the Dutch auction, first used in the Netherlands during Tulip mania in the 17th century, where the auctioneer will lower the price from the starting offer on an item until it wins a bid.

This system developed because tulip bulb inflation rose at such speed that establishing a market value on any given day became impossible by any other practice.

Even more complex systems of bidding can be used under special circumstances, for instance when selling a large collection. Though the desire may be to keep the collection together, enough demand may not arise to achieve this, so a dual system can be employed to test the water in which all lots are first offered singly and then, once the collective price has been established, the auctioneer will see if any single bidder is prepared to outbid that sum, thereby winning the whole lot.

It’s nice to know that, with skill, auction professionals can adapt their service to the needs of any given situation.