EXPLAIN IT TO ME: The 15 Minute Rule

A throwback to the earliest days of online auctions, the much maligned 15 Minute Rule is an automated method for ending an auction. It is the reason so many auctions last into the wee hours of the morning, and it is also the reason why some of the most coveted items in a given auction sometimes sell for multiple times their estimated values. At its simplest, the rule stipulates that the auction will not close until 15 minutes have passed with no bids being placed on any item within the entire auction. At that point, we assume, all bids are in, everyone has had a fair chance to bid, and so the proverbial gavel hits the sound block, the auction ends, and we all go to bed. I’ve been in the auction business for almost a decade now, and I’ve participated in hundreds if not thousands of auctions both as a buyer and as a consignor (or seller) and also as an auctioneer. On more than a few occasions, I’ve been kept awake until 4:00 AM to guarantee my winning bids. Other times I’ve set my alarm for 2:00 AM to enter my final bids, and still other times I’ve slept through an auction closing and completely missed my opportunity to bid. Today is the final day of Small Traditions Monthly Auction #6, and many of my customers have asked me to explain the 15 Minute Rule, so here’s an explanation of how the Small Traditions 15 Minute Rule works as well as a brief discussion of its pros and cons.

At Small Traditions, we’ve adopted the simplest version of the 15 Minute Rule. Our Monthly Auctions close on the final Thursday of every month at precisely 11:11 PM EST, at which time they enter into Extended Bidding. At that point, the 15 Minute Rule goes into effect, and each time a bid is placed within the auction, a new 15-minute timer begins to clock down to zero, and the auction will not close until a full fifteen minutes has passed with no bids being placed within the auction. IMPORTANT: All active Small Traditions bidders in good standing are permitted to bid on ANY item within the auction during the Extended Bidding period.

Of course, the primary reason we do this is simple: to generate more bids and to maximize prices for the lots within our auctions. For this reason, our consignors tend to love the 15 Minute Rule, while our bidders tend to hate it. The inevitable result of the rule is that most auctions last until 2:00 AM, 3:00 AM, or even 4:00 AM. But 4:00 AM where? 4:00 AM in New York is just 1:00 AM in Los Angeles, and while that’s still pretty late for a Thursday night, it’s just 10:00 PM in Hawaii and just 6:00 PM in Japan and Taiwan, where we have more than a few registered bidders. And so another primary reason we use the 15 Minute Rule is to give ALL bidders (east coast, west coast, far east cost) a fair chance to bid on the final night of our auctions.

The obvious complaint against the 15 Minute Rule is that it keeps bidders up too late, and several companies have developed alternatives to the rule to placate their bidders. Some auction houses apply the fifteen minute rule to multiple sessions within a single auction, while other houses apply the rule on a lot-by-lot basis, meaning that each lot closes individually after 15 minutes pass with no bidding activity. To the angst of consignors, a third alternative is to abandon the 15 Minute Rule and simply close the auction at an appointed time, but where’s the fun in that? In all sincerity, some of my fondest memories in this business have come on auction night, when bidding wars ensue and consignors realize record prices for items they were reluctant to sell, and when bargain-hunting bidders score incredible deals about which they brag to their friends the next day on chat forums across the internet.

A final note and a few suggestions regarding the 15 Minute Rule. Like all auction houses, Small Traditions reserves the right to use our discretion and to end our auctions at any time, especially when bids have slowed to a snail’s pace and the sky is paling. If you prefer not to stay awake until mid-morning, then consider setting your alarm for midnight, 1:00 AM, or 2:00 AM in order to check your status. The average ending time of our first have dozen auctions has been about 2:00 AM MST (Mountain Standard Time; we are in Denver). Alternatively, you can decide upon a price you are willing to pay for an item and use the Max Bid feature, available on all lots, or you can always call Small Traditions at 303.832.1975 and request a telephone bid up to a specific price before the auction ends. After all, more so than on other nights, on auction night, we work overtime.

Thanks for supporting Small Traditions, and good luck!

Dave Thorn