It seems very true, that changes in economic conditions offer unforeseen opportunities. The economy of the world has morphed dramatically since the days of Adam Smith and the Industrial Revolution, but human nature is still pretty consistent. An ability to blend intelligence and ambition can be a very productive cocktail. Dealers and auctioneers have a new, dynamic world opening up for a fresh interpretation of their goods and services.
I find it predictable that the Sotheby’s/Christie’s duopoly has quickly pulled in their horns on “guarantees” and extending credits. That’s not their business, as auctioneers. The cross currents of conflicts of interest and deception should have no business in their profession as an intermediary between a willing buyer and seller. The irony is they really don’t have to operate that way to still be highly profitable. Death, divorce, and taxes are pretty bullish assets to have over the next 20 years. It would be nice to have some real transparency in the marketplace, if the auctioneer would open the bidding with an amount acceptable to the seller.
The dealer on the other hand has really no leverage to cajole the duopoly auctioneers to this more reasonable and easier method of operating. With no challenge to their financial and goodwill strength, the duopoly’s ability to drive business will never be encumbered by a serious competitor. Only changing and dynamic economic conditions can cause modifications to the present personal (as opposed to real) property auction process. We see that now more than ever. But what opportunities can dealers offer to the marketplace and their own well being and advancement in these changing economic times? Can they create their own economic waves that can rock the auctioneer’s boat?
The easiest and most forthright is to publicly disclose prices, and shed any sense of hypocrisy over this issue. The public should expect no less from a dealer’s integrity. It sends a powerful message to everyone that the industry not just in the US but worldwide, is seizing the opportunity to reform its method of operating. That the present economic landscape for dealers has gotten much tougher is an understatement. For the last decade and in past good times too, antiques dealers have felt the vice of inventory acquisition colliding with the costs of operation, both at the whim in changes of taste and style.
Dealer’s opportunities should start with their numbers, but there is nothing close to a duopoly or any other multiple of dealers in any field, say English furniture that can set a standard for public disclosure and price transparency. The many domestic and international dealer organizations shutter to give even lip service to these basic principles.
Dealer organizations are however, the only means to find leadership and the financial strength to create an economic consequence. The aim could be anything from image of the dealer to the image of their products. The idea that antiques have value is something auctioneers don’t control. Price manipulation is all together a different concept. The perception of a dealer having things of value is a compelling thought. In today’s world, the public should understand the opportunity to appreciate the indubitable substance of an antique; the paper of a credit default swap or the illusion of a sub-prime mortgage, aren’t currency anymore.