Payne v Cave – Case Summary

Payne v Cave

High Court

Citations: (1789) 3 Term Reports 148; (1789) 100 ER 502.


The claimant put his goods up for sale at a public auction. The defendant made the highest bid, but then changed his mind. He purported to withdraw the bid before the auctioneer’s hammer fell. The claimant argued that there was a completed contract and the defendant had to pay for the goods.

  1. What was the legal nature of the defendant’s bid and retraction under contract law?

The Court held in favour of the defendant. The defendant’s bid was an offer, which had been withdrawn before it was accepted. As such, there was no contract.

This Case is Authority For…

An offer can be revoked at any time before it has been accepted.

At a normal auction:

  • An auctioneer asking for bids is an invitation to treat;
  • Any bid in response to this is an offer;
  • The fall of the auctioneer’s hammer is the acceptance.

As such, a bidder can withdraw their bid at any time before the auctioneer’s hammer falls.