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“We will not be ready to release the figures for a couple of weeks but we exceeded the £1.3bn achieved in 1989,” Christie's chief financial officer Peter Blythe told the Antiques Trade Gazette.

In the meantime Christie's have reduced the commission charged to most sellers by one per cent (see table on page two) to give them a “competitive edge” in the market.

They have retained the differential in their published rates for private, trade and “not-for-profit” institutional clients but weighted the scale more in favour of those who do most business with them, either buying or selling. Above all they have signalled their intention of competing for the business of the most valuable clients by offering “special terms”. This means that they can reduce their selling commission to zero and rely on the buyer's premium for their income where necessary.

As reported in last week's Antiques Trade Gazette, the top rate of buyer's premium will be 17.5 per cent on the first £50,000 of any price in most Christie's salerooms from March 31. In Amsterdam they will continue to charge the existing top rate of 20 per cent including VAT, while in Italy the lower rate will remain at 13 per cent rather than 10 per cent.

Christie's subsidiary Spink, who had already announced that they would be changing their buyer's premium at specialist stamps, coins and medals sales this March, now charge premium at a flat rate of 15 per cent on all lots of whatever value. Similarly they have standardised their vendors' commission at 15 per cent on all lots and abandoned the sliding scale which previously applied to stamps.

A special announcement is expected concerning wine sales where the buyer's premium has hitherto remained at a flat rate of 10 per cent.