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ATG’s recent round table (issue No 2358) discussed price transparency with dealers and auctioneers.

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1. Buyer’s premium

Re Paul Roberts’ remark that ‘…if Sotheby’s or Christie’s took their premium up to 25%, and we are chasing the same consignments, we have to follow suit to enable us to compete”: this curious remark does not make sense.

In what conceivable way does the amount of premium a buyer pays after the auction, affect consignments from vendors? The amount a vendor receives for his property is unaffected by the premium which auctioneers add on to the hammer price, surely?

What would be wrong with offering a lower, more competitive buyer’s premium rate? I disagree with Adam Partridge that “people [may not] look at buyer’s premium anymore”.

The fact remains that, since the concept of the buyer’s premium was established, it has continued to rise and generated ever more income, enabling the major auction houses to build themselves into international brands, with increasingly luxurious premises, lavish catalogues and powerful marketing.

It would have been instructive to have a representative of one of the big firms on your panel attempting to justify the 25% buyer’s premium, and as Emma Ward quite rightly noted, their persistent refusal to advertise the charge on the auction room bids display boards and prominently in sale catalogues in normal font size.

It remains the case that many wealthy and intelligent private buyers continue to be taken by surprise by the amount of buyer’s premium payable on purchases at auctions.

2. Dealer transparency

As for whether dealers should be transparent about their mark-up, the variety of responses reflects the ambivalence shown by exhibitors at fairs in displaying their asking prices.

I agree dealers should not have to declare how much profit they are seeking. However, in our firm, we believe exhibitors at art fairs should be contractually obliged to show their asking prices, which is not the same thing.

As Stephen Ongpin succinctly put it, this asking price is clear and all inclusive – except for ARR. At Masterpiece, we include prices on our labels – in type, please note, and not scrawled on in biro as a hasty afterthought, as I too often see at major fairs.

Those dealers who refuse to publish prices clearly have things to hide for all the wrong reasons, and only serve to bring in to disrepute our profession, at a time when the trade needs all the good PR it can get.

James Mitchell
John Mitchell Fine Paintings