Dutch Clock Auctions

Dutch Clock Auctions

 The Dutch system runs contrary to other common auction practices in that bidding opens with the seller requesting a high price.  The auctioneer proceeds to drop the price in rapid intervals until a buyer jumps in with a bid. 

The auction stops there with the very first bidder taking the lot. There’s no such thing as a counterbid. The Dutch flower trade adopted this system in 1899 and digital versions are still in use today.

The process descends directly from the methods used to price flower bulbs in the wake of tulipmania, though it is now used for many other products besides tulips, from vegetables and cut flowers to expensive cars.  In most cases, the system works to the advantage of sellers. Buyers weigh the choice between bidding their maximum price and risking loss by waiting in hopes of saving a little money.

In the olden days, buyers gathered on stadium style benches in a vast hall, bidding with hand signals and tracking prices on a large clock with a sweeping hand that reflected diminishing bids. 

Gradually, Dutch auctions have shifted to an elaborate electronic system with a virtual clock that most buyers watch on computer screens. While some participants still inspect wares in person and bid from terminals in the auction hall, many in the flower trade now content themselves with buying and selling from remote terminals spread across the globe.  They may never hold a tulip bulb or flower in their hands.