The “afternoon effect” for artworks

by on May 20, 2008 at 6:58 am in The Arts | Permalink

One resilient puzzle identified in the literature is the “declining
price anomaly.” This effect was identified by Ashenfelter (1989) and is
an obvious repudiation of the law of one price. It refers to the
observation that as an auction proceeds, the prices of the lots
decline, even for identical goods (e.g., wines). Beggs and Graddy
(1997) established the existence of the “declining price anomaly” for
heterogeneous goods using data for Contemporary and Impressionist art
auctions. This has generated great interest and a number of papers now
report somewhat conflicting results in this respect, although the
majority still seems to find evidence in favor of this anomaly (see
Ashenfelter and Graddy 2003, and Ginsburgh and van Ours 2007.) In light
of this controversy, it is of interest to investigate whether or not
Latin American art auctions are also subject to the declining price
anomaly or the so-called “afternoon effect” (“morning after effect”
would be a more appropriate name in this context as Latin Art auctions
occur in two parts, the first starting late in the day, say 7pm, and
the second starting earlier the following day, usually 10am.) In line
with previous research (Beggs and Graddy 1997), we find strong evidence
that the “declining price anomaly” holds for Latin Art data, even after
controlling for auction and artist unobserved characteristics (dummies)
and a huge array of paintings characteristics, including reputation and

Here is the link and yes I do believe this is true.  I believe it is mostly neuroeconomics at work, namely that we are more excited by new offerings than by familiar offerings.  Similarly, a painting that has been "shopped around" usually goes for a lower price than a comparable picture coming on the market for the first time in many years; admittedly it is hard to segregate out the selection bias here.  So if the same Jasper Johns print is being auctioned at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., some people just don’t want to wait with their bids.  I wonder also if there is a theorem about how an asymmetric distribution of risk-averse bidders, fearing they might not get the work at all, could generate the same price pattern,

An alternative hypothesis — likely true in part — is that even "identical" artworks differ slightly in quality and the auction houses sell the better one first, if only to create a price precedent and excitement effect for the second one later in the day.

1 Matthew May 20, 2008 at 6:44 am

Similar effects occur in the stock market.

For example, when a high-quality stock has good news overnight, a great many people will “buy at the open” and prices will open higher. Most of the time, the price will drop from the opening price, often substantially, until daytraders and institutional buyers start picking up the somewhat less expensive shares later in the morning, at which point the stock will often rally.

This pattern does not always hold true, but it is true often enough to make money with. . .

2 Gil May 20, 2008 at 7:07 am

Or is it do with notion that was seemed rare in the opening part isn’t so rare if the same sort of good is being auctioned later on. Is it like Eric Cartman find out that Craig & friends now also bought ninja weapons. “Aw man, now every douchebag in town has ninja weapons! Lame!”

3 Sol May 20, 2008 at 7:36 am

For duplicate items, couldn’t this just be the winner’s curse in action? The first person bought it for more than anyone else at the auction thought it was worth; therefore if a second copy comes up, as long as the first person isn’t buying it again, the second winner is very likely to pay less.

For instance, on EBay, two of us bid a rare but obscure record up into the $90 range in one auction. The next time a copy came up, it didn’t go for nearly as much, because there was only one of us left who wanted it that badly. Further copies will probably go for even less.

(BTW, my uncle claims prices in general have gone down long term on EBay… same effect?)

4 Andrew May 20, 2008 at 9:18 am

Firstly, I haven’t had time to read the study, but I think Sol hits the nail on the head – are we assuming that the same high-value bidders are hanging around for another go, or do they just go home with their purchase. If an auction is doing its job, the high-value bidders get the first lots, and prices decline.

On a tangential note, is it in auctioneers’ interest to put big, high-publicity (like last week’s Freud and Bacon) items up near the start of an auction or the end? Beginning, you might get some decent consolation bidding on later items; End, one might find low-balling to start, but plenty of spare budget to push up the price of the main lot?

Anyway, both issues are linked to whether or not people are planning on bidding for multiple items – how heterogeneous are their preferences, and how substitutable are works of art? Being just a teacher, I don’t have the finances to persue any active research! How strong a Veblen effect is there in high art – does it matter which piece of art you have, as long as you have one?

5 anomdebus May 20, 2008 at 12:25 pm

I wanted to post the same thing as Sol, but he did it better and earlier.

Another effect could relate to multiple item buyers. They come in expecting to spend $X and for the first item, they have all of that $X to spend, even if they know they don’t want to spend it all on the first item. As they have less money to spend, what is left becomes more dear.

6 RobbL May 20, 2008 at 1:26 pm

I saw the same result as Richard at auctions I have attended (low prices first and then higher). I attribute it to the desire to get a “bargain” and then fear of getting nothing at all. For example at a telescope/camera auction I went to, several identical tripods were auctioned. These retail in the 100+ dollar range. People apparently hoped to buy them at about 20 and so passed when the first ones went for 30. Late in the day the price climbed to 45 and then 55.

7 Matt Bruce May 20, 2008 at 1:52 pm

The declining price anomaly also seems to hold for rotisserie baseball auctions, even though everyone in the auction knows what the player universe is. There could be a winner’s curse in play, or the declining number of owners who still need a third baseman.

This might actually become a great source of data now that more roto auctions take place on the Internet (the fantasyauctineer web site for example). Could be a good study source if someone assembled enough sample size.

8 andres May 20, 2008 at 7:31 pm

how does this tie in to the anchoring effect??

9 Shane M May 20, 2008 at 10:09 pm

Purely anecdotal, but I’ve seen the opposite happen often on ebay. If there are 2-3 of the same item for sale – say a microphone – closing in time in close proximity I’ve found it’s best to go for the buy on the first one. I think alot of folks low ball the first item because they have others to fall back on, but then bid higher as supply dries up.

Time does have an impact and cost here though. Having to wait for future listings, or coming back for auctions a week later quickly becomes less appealing, especially for those of us who bid by sniping in the last seconds.

10 Shazia February 22, 2009 at 8:26 am

Thank you for providing great links about all of these timely stories.

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