There’s an odd auction house statistic that’s been making its way into the press. It’s the auction house measure called Sold by Value. When the auction houses release results, they provide the sales total, the top lots and the percentage of lots that have been sold. This last stat is the Sold by Lot percentage.
They also release a figure they label Sold by Value. That number is calculated by taking the sale total and adding the bid level of any lots that did not sell.
For example, in last night’s Brody sale which achieved the highest price for a single owner sale in New York, surpassing the fabled Ganz sale with $224 million and all of the 27 lots offered sold. That sale is listed as 100% sold by lot and 100% sold by value (even though the sale total exceeded the estimated value of the estate–which was also the guarantee level–of $150 million.)
Unfortunately, you’ll see the Sold by Value statistic presented in the press in this way about Christie’s $335m sale last night:
Overall, 56 of the 69 works on offer Tuesday evening found buyers, helping the sale achieve 86% of its potential value.
If the sale exceeded its estimate, how can it sell only a portion of its potential value? Well, if you think of the bids that didn’t reach the reserve price as potential sales that the consignors failed to achieve, then $335m is only 86% of the potential sale value. (Does that include chandelier bids?)
Sold by Value seems more useful as an internal measure for auction houses so they can fine tune their estimate strategies. As a public measure of an art auction, it seems less descriptive that the name would suggest.