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The ‘Buy-One-Get-One-Free’ Auction

The Auction: the sale of goods to the highest bidder. Indeed, the word itself derives from the Latin ‘augeo’, which means ‘I increase’ or ‘I augment’. It’s a model that dates back to Babylon in 500 BC, where auctions of women for the purposes of marriage were held annually.

Thankfully for all concerned, things have moved on a bit since then.

Throughout the ages, there have been a number of iterations – in the 17th and 18th Centuries, for example, there was the ‘Candle Auction’, whereby bidding would only end when the candle burnt itself out (Samuel Pepys records a number of instances where the admiralty sold ships ‘by an inch of a candle’).

The process today is fairly straightforward, even with the advent of the internet bid. The auctioneer collects bids in increments until the highest price offered is reached. If an item generates no interest or the price offered does not hit the reserve, the item is ‘passed’ or ‘unsold’.

What never happens is that the auctioneer simply gives away an item for free without asking for any bids.

Or does it?

The extremely rare Gold Medal (50 Ducats) commemorating the Opening of the Naval Dockyard in Kronstadt from 1752 that sold for $327,600 (inc. BP) at The New York Sale


That is precisely what happened on 7th January 2016 at the Waldorf Astoria in New York, the iconic venue for the annual New York Sale.

The bidding for lot 2122, the rare gold Medal (50 Ducats) displaying Elizabeth r and the Opening of the Naval Dockyard in Kronstadt from 1752 was, as you might expect for such a showcase item, a very competitive affair.

The estimate for the medal was $200,000, and rather than waiting for a candle to burn down, the more modern method of accepting higher and higher bids was employed by the auctioneer, until the final bid of $327,600 (including Buyer’s Premium) eliminated all under-bidders and the hammer finally fell.

What happened next was unprecedented in an auction room (candle or no), as the auctioneer, so pleased with the price realised for the gold medal, decided on the spot to give away the next lot free to the buyer!

This prompted the unusual and, we believe, unique appearance of the word ‘gratis’ to appear on a Prices Realised sheet.

For certain, this was a complete first in our auction room, and to the best of our knowledge has never happened before.

An odd occurrence for sure, but have you ever seen an auctioneer give away a free item in a coin auction? Was it out of sheer generosity and goodwill? What is the strangest thing you have ever seen in a coin auction?

Tell us below…..

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