What is going on here? A second auctioneer recently announced a change of practice in their method of auctioning to the public. As related in an editorial in the Maine Antiques Digest, James Halperin, co-chairman of Dallas based Heritage Auction Galleries, stated in a letter to the Wall Street Journal that Heritage now discloses the secret reserve prior to their auctions and uses openness rather than secrecy to build confidence among their bidders. Holy cow!!
Is that the death of “chandelier bidding”? Maybe, but he bring up another interesting point in questioning why “other auction firms are so hesitant to adopt similar policies”. That is a question that must make the Sotheby’s/Christie’s duopoly shake in their boots. After all, isn’t that how they manipulate their stranglehold on the market, along with conflict of interest guarantees (11/27/07 blog) and taking fees (seller commissions & non-negotiable buyer’s premiums) from both parties of the transaction they are brokering? Mr. Halperin has challenged his industry to come clean on the process and “eliminate the mystique and confusion surrounding the auction business”.
Auction industry standards start with the duopoly, and their calcified attitude of “their way or the highway” towards consigners, buyers, and fellow auctioneers is what makes them feel in control and above what is transparent and honest. With Mr. Haperin admonishing secret reserves, and Robert Brooks of Bonhams acknowledging the need for credibility and clarity in auctioneers acting as an agent without conflicts of interest, there now is a real recognition that the industry is calling out for practices that ultimately could lead to enlarging the market.
Perhaps this is the beginning of a ground-swell of auctioneers who understand that the present practices of deception are not acceptable and a hindrance to growth for not just auctioneers, but everyone in the industry who sells. Unfortunately, the duopoly looks at these assaults on their methods with no trepidation, as they must both work together to maintain the status quo. After all, why would they want to be caught colluding to change things for the good?