Art Auctions: The End of Seller’s Rebates

I wonder whether Edward Dolman is one of those people who, long after they’ve left home, casually drop into a conversation with their parents that they’ve stopped smoking cigarettes — having never admitted, in the prior years, that they were smoking cigarettes.

He certainly said something similar to Carol Vogel today:

Edward Dolman, Christie’s chief executive, said his company would, for the most part, give guarantees only in “exceptional circumstances” and it would not be rebating any of the buyer’s fees back to the seller.

Translation: yes, I’ve been sneaking round the back of the bike sheds for a crafty cig every so often, but don’t worry, it’s not going to happen again.

Until today, I’ve never seen anybody from Sotheby’s or Christie’s admit that the seller’s commission — which has always been negotiable — might ever have been negotiated all the way down past zero and into rebate territory.

Of course, this is yet another reason why it’s idiotic to care about hammer prices, if in many cases the seller actually ends up being paid more than the hammer price. That practice might have halted for the time being, but you can be sure that if and when the market starts heating up again, the auction houses will restart it. But quietly: they’ll never admit it while they’re doing it.

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