The art of deception is the most import tool in the auctioneer’s bag of unregulated practices.
I have to tell you that I feel like I was duped at one of the last aspects of getting a deal at auction; buying a bought-in item. What if there was not a “secret reserve”, could I have bought the lot?
The problem with the “secret” is why it isn’t disclosed after the lot fails to meet that price. Shouldn’t the secret price be available to any one after the sale? Some auctioneer’s have begun to do this, and I think it is a step in the right direction for setting a legitimate, disclosed floor for the price of the consignment they are looking to sell. It also show you that they can make more by attempting to sell every item. It make’s the deception kind of legal, after the fact.
A disclosed reserve, either before or after an item goes to auction, should be a regulated requirement enforced by the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs or anyone else that deems authority. Why shouldn’t the pubic be given a fair opportunity even when the auctioneer actually acknowledges your bid, and they know you can’t buy it? It does sound unbelievable! But it the “generally accepted way of doing business”, Hah, Hah!
My experience at Sotheby’s this week illustrates the issue. After successfully not bidding up an item to the secret reserve, the item was passed. I immediately called the department to offer to buy the item at the reserve. The estimate was $6,000.00 to $8,000.00, and I left an offer of $5,000.00 or the consigner’s reserve price, which ever was higher. I felt that was a reasonable offer. The Sotheby’s representative said that the consigner preferred to take the item back.
I was hoodwinked, by standards that are a disgrace and an embarrassment to our industry. The reserve is so neatly designed to allow the auctioneer in concert with the consigner to confuse and mislead the bidder. In other industries, this deception would put the perpetrators in jail for fraud. This approach is almost like a bait and switch tactic. You can buy it, but only after I can change the terms. My how the auction process has been corrupted.
It is examples like the exploitation of the reserve that require serious thought as to why this and other more dangerous abuses by the Sotheby’s/Christie’s duopoly continue without any question or opposition from dealers, the public, and government. I will never stop using this forum as a bully pulpit to voice my displeasure. What is the alternative, good old fashioned capitalism! That’s a topic for discussion later.