I feel like a relic in the antiques industry; I was in it before the buyer’s premium and before the internet.  The dollar was the mighty currency of the world and American dealers could buy with impunity anything in Europe.  My, my, has the world changed!

 

I would like to think that the industry is “out of the closet” and into the mainstream public.  That would be encouraging; it definitely is more transparent.  But the whole evolution of this industry since I’ve been around has clearly been orchestrated by the Sotheby’/Christie’s duopoly (an economic situation in which two powerful groups or organizations concentrate or dominate commerce in one business market or commodity).  

 

What is most disturbing about this text book definition of my industry’s economic state is that they should be even more profitable and successful.  I for one don’t want to hoist up the white flag yet, as so many dealers have been resigned to do; not by their desire but their inability to compete with the free capital of inventory that auctions have access too.  How did they get it, and then be able to continue their parallel growth and control for so many decades.  I like our government’s military policy which best describe how it works: “don’t ask, don’t tell”.

 

Let’s not tell anyone that the buyer’s premium is non-negotiable and a conflict of interest with a seller’s commission.  I wouldn’t want anyone to ask why buyers are deceived when biding on something and can’t buy it because it hadn’t reached a “secret” reserve. In most industries, these issues were dealt with by government regulation.  There are abundant examples of companies being accused of and convicted of some form of market manipulation by deceitful and deceptive practices; some are just thought of as being the acceptable way of doing business.  The securities and investment industry comes to mind most clearly.

 

The jump from the securities to the antiques industry is not really a great leap.  It’s about committing capital in some form to an investment.  Both are all about making a smart decision based on the price, and merits of the transaction.  Those merits could be the safety of the allocation of the funds, or the dividend income (of aesthetic pleasure).  My point is that the art and antiques industry can’t function properly with skewed economic conflicts of interest and practices exhibited by the duopoly.

 

The 20 year horizon for a dealer’s role in the industry doesn’t look promising.  The pair of “big box retailers” has surged over the prospect of less and less dealer competition; they will only have to compete or should I say collude with each other as to how they can continue their travesty on the industry. Where is the flag to lead the charge for change or is it too late?

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