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The rise is being introduced on February 5, the first in a four-day run of Contemporary, Impressionist and Modern art auctions billed as potentially London’s richest art sales ever.

The new threshold will mean an automatic £12,000 extra on the bill for many of the multi-million pound works on offer.

The raising of the thresholds by the world’s two leading auction houses should boost revenues. When Sotheby’s last raised the premium rates in January 2005, it was a major contributor to the 13 per cent ($59m) increase in revenues for the year.

But the real battle is expected to be over market share. Passing on more of the auction-related costs to the buyer means that Sotheby’s and Christie’s can be more flexible in their dealings with sellers.

Securing the best consignments is no longer simply a matter of wining, dining and offering cheap commissions. Guarantees, advance payments and even dropping commissions and handing over a share of the premium are all thought to be weapons in the arch rivals’ respective armouries.

Meanwhile, London-based coins and medals auctioneers Spink have also announced a rise in their buyer’s premium rate. As of March 15, it will increase from a flat 15 per cent to a tiered structure of 20 per cent on the first £2000 of the hammer price and 15 per cent on anything above that.

“This marginal increase in the buyer’s premium will allow Spink to continue to enhance many services we provide for clients and open doors to several new projects Spink wish to take on in 2007 to benefit the expanding marketplace,” said chief executive Olivier Stocker.