Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

The firm have already lowered their vendor’s commissions, surprising those who felt they might not dare follow Christie’s lead in the light of recent allegations.

The decision came a week after chief executive Dede Brooks and chairman Alfred Taubman resigned their posts at Sotheby’s in the wake of a US Justice department investigation into alleged collusion between the two auction houses over introducing identical rates for buyers in 1992, and identical rates for sellers of goods priced between £60,000 and £3m in 1995.

Sotheby’s new structure for sellers of goods priced between £60,000-£3m will be the same in every respect to that announced by Christie’s three weeks ago, and they have followed their rivals in allowing buyers to combine the amount of their annual purchases and sales in any calendar year to reduce the level of commission paid on goods consigned. They have included transactions on sotheby’s.com and sotheby’s.amazon.com in the equation.

“Sotheby’s is determined to remain competitive on the selling side,” said deputy managing director Simon Taylor, but he added that undercutting Christie’s vendor’s charges was not an option because of the damage to net profits, which fell to $32.9m from $45m last year. Rates for dealers selling through Sotheby’s will remain at 10 per cent for items under £2000 and then six per cent up to £60,000.

Sotheby’s new scale of buyer’s premium does show significant differences to Christie’s: purchasers at Sotheby’s will now pay 20 per cent of the hammer price for the first £10,000 of any lot, 15 per cent on the next £50,000 and 10 per cent over £60,000 – in other words, 2.5 per cent more than Christie’s on the first £10,000 and 2.5 per cent less on the next £40,000, and five per cent more on the following £10,000.

Buyers at most Christie’s salerooms will now pay 17.5 per cent on the first £50,000 and 10 per cent thereafter.

The rates at Sotheby’s Sussex salerooms will remain at 15 per cent for the first £30,000 and 10 per cent thereafter, “basically because the overheads are cheaper there”, said Mr Taylor.

Sotheby’s say the buyer’s premium for Internet transactions will remain at a flat 10 per cent in order to encourage more dealers to purchase goods through the dot com outlets.