I know one lobbyist. I do know Sotheby’s, one half of the industry duopoly with Christie’s, presented their view in a memo to the New York State Legislature concerning a bill to prevent sham or chandelier bidding. The legislation would prevent the deception of hiding the amount of the reserve during the bidding process. As a dealer, I can’t quite see how they can have my interests in mind.
Almost every industry has a trade representative, or lobbyist, whose job is to represent their interests to government. It could be the auto, computer, farm industries, or a trade union. The lobbyist is an essential tool for any industry to grow and expand by having someone explain and promote their industry. A lobbyist can represent a special interest in the industry but that is at the expense of other members of the industry. So who is the industry’s lobbyist?
Being an industry leader, and part of the leadership of the duopoly, Sotheby’s had to take the lead on this proposed legislation. As a company represented on the New York Stock Exchange, their American interests are more threatened, but like Christie’s, they are internationally diversified. In other words, they want to represent their industry interests worldwide, and not just in the US. Is that also the interests of eBay and its users, antiques centers and show promoters, or museums and collectors? How about antiques and fine art dealer organizations both national, and international for that matter? Why haven’t they been aware of this legislation and written a memo to the support or even oppose the legislation.
As this legislation directly affects the auction aspect of the industry, its ramifications directly alter the auction business. It requires a fuller disclosure in the process of selling at auction. By the same token what applies to auctions should equally apply to dealers in the industry too. The auction process is directly opposite to the dealer method. A dealer should be required to disclose a price, a ceiling price just as an auction should disclose the floor, or reserve, especially when the “independent” auctioneer has an ownership interest. We both want to sell, but the methods should be equally transparent.
That may be my fantasy, but aren’t there other industry issues like restrictions on art and collectibles for retirement funds, tax incentives, and product representations that also need government influence? Unfortunately, I believe that the industry is so hopelessly fragmented that maybe the government can patch it back together by understanding that use of deception, whether by an auctioneer, dealer, museum, or con-artist, undermines confidence in the market.