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Accidental Bid

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"Sold, for too much money, to the guy with not enough money!"
Danny, Game Grumps VS: Monopoly

Because of innocent or unrelated behavior during a silent auction, a character finds he has unintentionally bid an outlandish price on — and won — some expensive item. The accidental bidder will usually accept the purchase because he's too embarrassed to explain that it was a misunderstanding. If he does try to explain that it was a misunderstanding, the auctioneer won't care anyway, and he'll force the bidder to accept the purchase.

Usually a Comedy Trope, but sometimes used as plot device leading to an adventure of sorts; The more useless an auction item looks, the more likely it is to be either magical or contain mysterious old maps.

This is not Truth in Television, an auctioneer will always confirm a bid before accepting it in real life.


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  • A "Head and Shoulders" ad showed a man accidentally buying an expensive icon because he kept scratching his head with his bidding number in his hand.
  • An ad for Mikado chocolate biscuit sticks has a man in the middle of an auction pulling a Mikado out of its box, and this being mistaken as a bid for a stuffed yak. It ends with him guiltily eating the biscuit while his wife glares at him.
  • In this Dutchtone commercial, Leslie Nielsen is at the Aalsmeer Flower Auction. During his speech, he sits down at one of the auction panels and frequently hits the red button to underscore his statement, unaware that he is thus bidding on the flowers. At the end, he gets his flowers delivered to him, and thinks they are a present.

    Anime & Manga 
  • Hunter × Hunter. Gon's allies decide to teach him how an auction works — after it starts. Gon 'bids' an insane amount of money. Fortunately they are outbid and escape the consequences of his foolishness.
  • Seitokai Yakuindomo holds a charity auction at a cultural festival one year. One of the lots is a bodybuilding session with the muscular Daimon-sensei, which the students are very reluctant to bid on until Tokki is startled by a bee on her shoulder. As it happens, "hachi" can mean either "bee" or "eight" in Japanese and she wins with a "bid" of eight yen.

    Comic Books 
  • Was a staple device of children's comics like The Beano back in the 1990s (and may still be).
  • This has been a staple device of Disney Comics ever since Carl Barks. Goofy and the ducks are especially prone to it.
    • Donald accidentally bought an old boat in an auction in a Carl Barks story.
    • Goofy accidentally bought a painting while trying to tell the hours to a deaf man.
  • Used at least once in an Archie comic: Betty tries to tell Archie — over traffic noise —how much money she's saved up and ends up accidentally getting the winning bid on a stuffed moose's head. Considering how often staple comedy devices are used in Archie Comics, this is probably not the only example in existence.
    • This gets taken to extremes in another story. First Betty accidentally wins a bid she didn't want by waving at Archie and Veronica when they enter. Then Archie does the same when demonstrating to Betty how she waved. Then Veronica does it by tugging her ear and Betty does it again by scratching her nose.
  • Achille Talon has one where a hideous work of "art" is sold due to the presence of flies in the room. Fortunately, the auctioneer buys it back (after several unsuccessful attempts to get rid of the thing) as it turns to be worth a lot more than it was sold for.

    Comic Strips 
  • Hägar the Horrible: Lucky Eddie does this once by waving to someone in an auction. To make the whole thing even more embarrassing, it is at a harem girls auction in the middle east.
  • Blondie: Blondie and Dagwood were at least smart enough to know and try to avoid this when they attended an auction... unfortunately, Dagwood developed a case of the hiccups.

    Films — Animated 
  • A variation of this occurs in Ralph Breaks the Internet; Ralph and Vanellope fully intended to visit eBay - represented in Cyberspace as a vast auction house - to find the last remaining Sugar Rush steering wheel. However, being video game characters from the arcade era, they have no understanding how money, let alone auctions, actually work and mistake it for a game where the person who shouts the highest number wins, leading to them bidding the absurdly high sum of $27,001 for the wheel. Them attempting to scrounge up that amount in less than eight hours constitutes a significant chunk of the movie's plot.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In The Million Pound Note, a child waves at Henry while he's at an auction. He waves back. The auctioneer thinks he's bidding, and he ends up buying a vase he doesn't have the money to pay for.
  • In Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Lara attends an auction to meet with someone and accidentally bids on something expensive and fairly hideous. Her face betrays her relief when she is outbid.
  • In MouseHunt, Lars and Ernie Smuntz inherited their father's house and tried to sell it in an auction. While they were chasing a mouse, Ernie accidentally made a bid but quickly undid the misunderstanding.
  • In Abbott and Costello Join the Foreign Legion, Lou accidentally wins a slave girl auction by repeatedly waving to a girl when he was just being friendly, not knowing that the auctioneer is misinterpreting him as bidding. When he and Lou try to get out of it, the auctioneer won't hear of it, noting that Lou's win is a good buy. To that, Lou responds "Good buy? Goodbye!" as he makes a break for it.
  • This trope sets off the plot of Mr. Drake's Duck. Mrs Drake is mistaken for passionately wanting sixty ducks when she is waving to a friend and has no choice but to take them home to her stressed husband.

  • Paddington Bear once went to an auction. He found it a very friendly place. People kept on waving at him, so naturally he waved back...
  • In Bagthorpes Haunted, Mr. Bagthorpe chooses the worst possible bidding sign for someone who spent the night before staying up hoping to see ghosts — a half-stifled yawn. Predictably, he ends up buying a large amount of useless items, including an ancient gramophone that plagues them for quite some time. Due to a lack of coordination, he also accidentally gets into a bidding war with his wife over several pieces of bad furniture they want for the house.
  • In the children's novel By The Great Horn Spoon, the characters are talking amongst themselves during an auction. At one point Jack says the word "ate" in response to another character's question, and the auctioneer overhears and interprets this as an eight-dollar bid for what turns out to be a bushel of neckties (for comparison, the last genuine bid was at two dollars).
  • In Jeffrey Archer's As the Crow Flies Charlie Trumper starts making higher bids on the auctioneer property to force Mrs. Trentham to bid up to her total cash reserves. Once that happens, his wife Rebecca accidentally bids again. It works out as Mrs. Trentham also bids again and is eventually forced to sacrifice her bid deposit as she can't honor the hammer price. Charlie is able to buy the shop at a much cheaper price afterwards.
  • Referenced in one The Baby-Sitters Club book when the Club's school holds a charity auction; Kristy notes that her only context for how auctions work is from movie scenes in which someone sneezes and then has to buy something terribly expensive. She's later relieved to learn that this isn't reality, as the auction actually requires bidders to both raise their hand and actually call out the bid amount to signal a bid.
  • In the second Tour of Doctor Syntax (1820), the title character accidentally bids on one of his own books, making this trope Older Than Radio at the very least:
Syntax delighted beyond measure
Nodded to express his pleasure,
But started when the auctioneer
Told him he was the purchaser.
  • The Black Stallion's Filly has a scene in a horse auction. Two bidders are competing for an expensive horse, the air is very tense...and then someone else in the stands blows his nose. The auctioneer asks the man if that's meant as a bid, and graciously accepts his no. Unfortunately, the laughter that everyone else in the stands bursts into is less easy to escape.
  • Jennings: In Typically Jennings, Jennings accidentally acquires a painting and a cooking-stove when he raises his hand, trying to ask a question about the next lot. He and Darbishire decide that since they have the items, they ought to try to do something with them, and this fuels the rest of the plot of that book.

    Live-Action TV 
  • May have originated on The Dick Van Dyke Show, in an episode where the characters (who are TV show writers) make accidental bids while joking about writing a sketch where the character makes accidental bids.
  • Perfect Strangers did this with a bottle of wine, by having Larry try to teach Balki the basics of how these auctions work and end up winning the wine... and then having Balki tickle some bidders into making Accidental Bids of their own to make a profit from the wine.
  • Sanford and Son had Fred perform outlandish gesticulations to prompt the other bidders to go higher—after seeing Lamont do it—and he ended up buying the very piece the two had put up for sale, at a ridiculous markup.
    • This was copied from the British original Steptoe and Son, where it happened in the episode 'Crossed Swords'. It's not really an example of an accidental bid, though, as they were deliberately bidding to force up the price.
  • The Golden Girls, when Rose fans herself with the bidding paddle.
  • On Friends, Joey once bought an expensive boat at auction because he didn't understand how a silent auction worked thought that he was meant to guess the price of the boat rather than pay that amount. He's very distressed to learn he's expected to pay $20,0000 as he doesn't have that much money.
  • In Arrested Development, Buster accidentally bids on his mother's best friend and chief social rival, whom he was trying to avoid, when he was supposed to bid on his mother (the two share a first name).
  • Subverted in an episode of Forever Knight. Nick really is bidding on the item, but his partner Schanke, who doesn't yet know that Nick is insanely wealthy, thinks he's doing it by accident.
  • In an episode of Psych, Gus sniffs around people at an auction, looking for a certain perfume that Shawn deduced the murderer was wearing. The auctioneer thinks Gus is bidding, so Gus ends up bidding on and winning... an old and quite large Confederate flag. Gus is black.
  • Discussed in an episode of No Reservations — in the Korean episode, Tony notices that everyone's bidding on fish by raising their hands madly. He tells Nari to keep her hand down or she'll end up buying a ton of cod.
  • Didi Mocó accidentally bought several stuff while talking to other people in an auction.
  • Happened to Dwight on The Office. He thought the other bidders were guessing the value of the items wrong and takes great care to put in the correct amount. He ends up getting every item on the auction, then realizes that he has to actually buy them.
  • In one episode of Mario Eats Italy — Mario Batali's show on the Food Network 2001-2003, in which he tours Italy with his idiot assistant Rooney — they go to a seafood auction at some seaport town; it's run as a Dutch auction, with a continuously-descending price for each lot of fish (or whatever) displayed, and the first to press the button gets the lot at the displayed price. Rooney leans on a button accidentally, landing Batali and Rooney with a tray of seafood for which they have paid far too much, and they wander the streets of town looking for someplace to cook it before it spoils.
  • At the end of the third season of To the Manor Born a servant taking a drink in an auction for a stately home is taken as a bid, more than once. Subverted, however, in that when the item is sold he gives his employer's name, having been asked to bid covertly.
  • Murder, She Wrote: In "Deadly Bidding", Charlie Garret is bidding on a painting, but drops out when the bidding passes $100,000. However, when he attempts to signal Jessica, he actually bids $400,000 and wins the auction.

    Western Animation 
  • Dennis the Menace: The 1986 version had a short called "Lights, Camera, Auction!" where Dennis and Mr. Wilson go to an auction. Wilson winds up winning several very expensive items — several but not all caused by Dennis’ behavior — and is warned to pay or else!
  • The Real Ghostbusters had Peter Venkman win a book containing the Horsemen of the Apocalypse by sneezing during an auction.
  • Happened in an episode of the 1980s cartoon series Alvin and the Chipmunks, where Alvin was pretending to bid on expensive things in order to impress a rich girl; he ended up accidentally outbidding his rival on a yacht.
  • Inverted on Family Guy; Stewie wants the doomsday weapon, but can't get the auctioneer's attention, being only a foot tall. Eventually, the price falls to 'free' and nobody is seen bidding.
  • The Flintstones: In "Divided We Sail," Barney fills in for stage-frightened Fred on the game show "The Prize is Priced" (a mock-up of The Price Is Right, which back then was a modified auction) where the contestants are bidding on a fishing pole. When it's Barney's turn to bid, he quips "Well, I'll just put my two cents in," which gets recorded on his tote screen as a bid of two cents. He actually wins and gets the bonus prize attached to it: a houseboat.
  • Done with a sneeze on the Totally Spies! episode "Do You Believe In Magic?". Sam then laments that the mission has gone over-budget.
  • In a Hurricanes episode, Napper Thompson accidentally made a winning bid for the McGuffin while knocking down a man who was really trying to buy it. Even worse: the man was representing the Big Bad, Stavros Garkos. Later on, Garkos bought it from Napper, who never really wanted the McGuffin in the first place, in another auction, where one of Garkos' thugs accidentally bought another item.
  • Happens to Porky Pig in the 1939 short "Porky And Teabiscuit." He answers a codger's question about what time it is, almost 11:00. The codger asks again and Porky intones "11" even louder. A fair's auctioneer mistakes it as Porky's bid and takes the $11 Porky made at the fair as payment for what turns out to be a broken down nag.
  • Rugrats (1991): In "Auctioning Grandpa", Grandpa Lou falls asleep in a rocking chair set for auction, leading the babies to think he's going to be sold. Dil picks up an auction paddle and keeps waving it while Stu is carrying him through the back of the auction crowd, causing the auctioneer to mistake Stu for a bidder and driving the price of the rocking chair to $150. When Stu is forced to pay, he ends up using the money that Didi earned from selling her Bird Homes to a pair of hippies to pay for the rocking chair.
  • Shaun the Sheep: Shaun engineers this trope as the pivot of the plot in "The Farmer's Llamas".

    Real Life 
  • A bit of Truth in Television here: The emperor Caligula did this to the senator Aponius Saturninus when he fell asleep at an auction. He told the auctioneer to pay attention to the senator who kept nodding at him. Aponius wound up buying thirteen gladiators for a large chunk of change.
  • Obviously, real auction houses with any sort of reputation to uphold are not going to enforce accidental bids, since not only would that upset the accidental bidder, but also the one that just lost their bid for the item.
  • Sandi Toksvig put the first bid on a horse she was acting as auctioneer for in order to start the bidding, only to receive no subsequent bids.