Antique auctions online, like any other business, have their own peculiar bits of unique words and phrases that you may not be familiar with if you don’t ideas for silent auction items usually bid on such auctions and especially if you don’t buy antiques very often. Therefore, we decided to put together this simple guide to the language of antiques and online auctions which should allow you to more easily find your way around the various offerings that exist out there.

Online Auction

Unlike a traditional auction, an online auction is one which is held entirely online. There are numerous formats that these kinds of auctions can take, including things like silent auctions such as eBay and live auctions.

Traditional Auction

When people think of an auction, this is what they usually imagine – a room somewhere with various objects for sale and a person standing in the front calling bids for the things for sale. The price keeps going up until no one else wants to bid and then the item is sold to the highest bidder.

Silent Auction

A traditional silent auction is a situation where various objects are laid out on tables along with a list to be filled in with a bidder number and a bid. The bids can continue to be made until the time specified for the end of the auction. eBay runs an online variation of these kinds of auctions.

Reserve Price

A reserve price is the amount below which a seller will not sell an item. These are especially common with antique auctions online as a seller may believe a particular object is worth a certain amount of money and simply refuse to sell for less than that amount. Even if people do bid, if no one goes over the reserve (a number which is often hidden in order to maintain interest), then the highest bidder does not get the item they bid on. Instead, it goes back to the original owner.


These days, virtually everything is “collectible” and seeing this term used by an auction house simply means that they are trying to drum up extra business. The word simply means that you could have a collection of these items; however, since people collect all kind of objects, virtually anything can be labeled as “collectible.”


This is an especially important term to know if you want to bid on antiques. A reproduction means that this item is not an original. There are reproductions of virtually every antique and antiquarian object imaginable, along with reproductions of most famous ancient objects as well.


While this term is commonly used to refer to books which are antiques, it technically means someone who is involved in the business of antiques in some way.


In the United States, there is no legal definition of antique; however, a good rule of thumb is that an object should be at least 100 years old in order to be antique.


When a seller wants to advertise an object which they think may be of interest, but the object is less than 100 years old, those who are honest will usually refer to the object as being “vintage” rather than “antique.” It is not uncommon, for instance, to find  offering “vintage” 1950s furniture for sale, which while it is only about 50-60 years old, is often highly desirable and something which fetches quite a bit of money.