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After Paris, where sales totalled £430m, the leading auction centres were Lyon (£66m), Toulouse (£40m), Deauville (£37m) and Lille (£33m). The number of towns and cities posting a turnover in excess of 3 million euros (£1.85m) rose from 71 to 77.

New Chambre Nationale President Dominique Ribeyre, who succeeded Gérard Champin last October, said the figures “showed a degree of consistency, if not real resistance given the context of 2001, marked by world recession and the tragic events of September 11”. He added that good results in November and December had offset “an up and down year”.

Ribeyre also announced that a government decree of February 19 now enables all commissaires-priseurs to fix buyer’s premiums as they think fit – and not just those who have already adopted commercial status.

Commissaires-priseurs have until July 10 to apply to the Conseil des Ventes for the right to adopt commercial status.

Court-order sales will remain the prerogative of commissaires-priseurs, obliging commissaires-priseurs who wish to operate commercially to operate as two entities: as new auction firms under the terms of the auction reform; and as traditional études for court-order sales. After July 10, the Chambre Nationale will represent only the latter, to be known as “commissaires-priseurs judiciaires”.

Ribeyre said that the Reform had “been adopted without any real problem” and that “various myths about Anglo-Saxon firms are being dispelled... (their) auctions in France seem just like those staged by commissaires-priseurs”. £1 = €1.63