Following is a letter I sent to the editor of the Antiques Trade Gazette (England) in response to a commentary written by Mr. John Rumens that appeared this week in this trade newspaper.
I feel compelled to challenge John Rumens comments on the “addictive nature of auctions” as “a flawed process-but here to stay”. In my mind that is the kind of attitude that has allowed auctioneers, and in particular the Sotheby’s/Christie’s duopoly to lead an unabated course of deception and fraud on the public and trade, which many innocent auctioneers must follow.
To acknowledge that we just have to live with these methods is an insult to the integrity of how this industry should operate and why the public in general can’t quite trust its pricing format. Pricing is critical to any form of commerce, and dealers are just as guilty of price deception when they don’t publicly disclose the prices of their items.
If all the troubles in the financial system that we are now experiencing are the results of greed and deception, certainly we will be expecting government intervention to make and enforce better regulations. The present auction format has evolved with systemic issues that call out for the same kind of government scrutiny and intervention now more than ever.
Apparently, competition that the auction method is suppose to create has now fallen prey to this flawed process and all parties now require the cat and mouse game of a “secret reserve” among other tactics. Auctioneers fear that they must manipulate bidders with it, as they have no confidence in actually having a competitive market for their items. If that is the case, then the rule of deception is a terrible blot on how this industry operates.
While I consider myself one who cringes at the thought of government intrusion in my business, it sounds like Mr. Rumens is actually calling out for a remedy to extricate this industry from its failings. Dealers and their representative organizations have been cooped by the auctions; an independent, enforceable government position is needed for real price transparency to break the addiction.