The Art and Antique Dealers League of America, Inc., is the oldest and principal antiques and fine arts organization in America, and its web site mission statement says its purpose is “to devote itself to the best interest of dealers and collectors of antiques and works of art”. 

 

CINOA (La Confederation International des Negociants en Oeuvres d’ Art), is an international organization of art dealers representing more than 5000 dealers worldwide. On their web site, CINOA states that it “works with competent authorities to develop solutions and highlight the potential impact of emerging legislation on dealers and collectors as well as the ripple effect it has on all the art-related services and the art and antiques market sector’s economy”.  In the same breath they also say “CINOA believes that through high ethical standards, the art and antique market players can defend the profession, instead of requiring new laws which are even more restricting and harmful for the art and antique market.”  Dealer’s better wake up and smell the roses with that altruistic approach.

 

When every industry solicits the aid of good representation by competent lobbyists, it appears that these dealer organizations and their members are afraid of rocking the boat and defending their interests in the industry.  “High ethical standards” don’t seem to translate into the “best interest” of these dealers, when competing against auctioneers and their methods. Sham bidding and secret reserves don’t sound so ethical to me. Auctioneers, by contrast are certainly not defensive in their approach of aggressively protecting their manner of doing business.  So why are dealers unable to assert themselves and seek a more proactive position?

 

I’ve talked with a number of dealers about this question and it seems that there are a number of issues that intimidate dealers from defending themselves from the encroachment of auctioneers on their portion of the industry.   Perhaps the greatest fear is their growing dependence on auctions as a method to raise cash and liquidate inventory, more so than as a source of inventory. It is with this insecurity and trepidation that, as a seller, they must employ the auctioneer’s protection of the secret reserve to hide their greed, or desperation to cash out on an item.  It is an acknowledgement that the dealer organizations are divided and lack any clear purpose or goal in either being able to bring about or defend legislation where the auctioneer’s interests and methods are at odds with their own prospects.

 

The unfortunate situation among dealers is that they have the strength in numbers, but lack the organizational leadership and resolve to promote a vision of growth within the industry.  At the International Fine Art and Antiques Dealer Show in New York City this week, you’ll hear a lot of lip service from the dealers about the continuing encroachment of auctions on their sales, but also the lack of any kind of organizational leadership.  It is this paralysis that let the Sotheby’s/Christie’s duopoly to introduce the buyer’s premium and continues with their no comment on the auctioneer’s sham bidding method in the New York State Legislative debate on this topic.

 

So do the dealer organizations “high ethical standards” give them a competitive advantage over auctioneers?  Just remember, nice guys finish last.

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