‘A performance art’: The secrets of a Christie’s auctioneer

Hugh Edmeades is responsible for over £2.2 billion in sales at the world’s biggest auction house. Here, he presents his expert advice for would-be auctioneers

‘It’s showtime,’ declares Hugh Edmeades, Christie’s International Director of Auctioneering, who has conducted over 2,300 auctions since making his debut in August 1984 — selling over 300,000 lots for more than £2.2 billion.

‘Auctioneering is a performance art,’ Edmeades continues. ‘Our stage is our rostrum, and our only prop is our gavel.’ With over 30 years of experience in the industry, Edmeades is an expert performer, and now manages a select group of 65 men and women responsible for taking Christie’s sales across the globe. Many are graduates of his highly competitive ‘Auctioneering School,’ run every two years for Christie’s staff. 

‘Auctioneers must enjoy themselves, and the bidders will too’

In this video, Edmeades gives an exclusive insight into the rigorous training his potentials undertake. ‘If an actor doesn’t know his or her lines, then they cannot truly perform their part. And with auctioneers, if we don’t know our numbers and our increments then we cannot truly sell,’ he insists. 

His other nuggets of wisdom are more subtle, though no less important — from encouraging auctioneers to adopt bright accessories, to using hand gestures. Perhaps the most vital is a sense of enthusiasm. To succeed as an auctioneer, Edmeades says, requires speed and energy: ‘Auctioneers must enjoy themselves, and the bidders will too.’ 

As Edmeades approaches the 32nd anniversary of his first sale, that sense of enjoyment remains palpable — shining through a now expertly-polished performance.