I have been brought up thinking that Christie's and Sotheby's were the pinnacle in the auction business but now I have second thoughts about Christie's due to a transaction that I was involved in where Christie's sold a painting for me. Now I am reconsidering my opinion about their professionalism in the auction business. I will let you be the judge and I will just present the facts for your analysis.
This story starts out on a very happy note when a member of the “Daryle Lambert's Antique and Collectible Club” was contacted by one of its members in Texas about a painting. This painting was by Walter Darby Bannard, an American painter. It was rather large in size 30 X 45 ½ inches and from the era of his better paintings. Its title was Cherokee Blanket # 4 and on the stretcher it was signed and dated 1970. At the price of $600 it had to belong to the Club and with a $100 fee to get it to Christie's or Shannon's, the total investment would be $700.
The Club was more than happy to enter it into the “Associates Program” where the Club purchases the piece and then splits the profit with its member who found it. Calling Shannon's Auction and being given an verbal estimate of $3,250, the next call was to Christie's since they had sold the most recent painting by this artist for $13,750. To be fair it was larger, measuring 67 X 99 inches, but it was the same genre. After Christie's estimated the painting at $5000 - $7000, it was decided to sell the painting at Christie's because they had sold a piece by the artist at the highest price. What a mistake that was because Shannon's seems to never miss the estimates they give me.
But on with the story. The auction due date came and all the parties were excited until the news came that the painting didn't reach its reserve. Please remember that Christie's set the price with no help from the Club. Yes, we were disappointed but Christie's said they would resell it at another time. However, they set the estimate this time at $2000 - $3000 fairly insuring it would reach that level but yet not allowing a reserve to be set the second time around.
Now this is where the story turns a little sick because at the second auction it was sold for $850. A check for that small amount of money seemed to confuse them because after the settlement date had come and passed, there was no check and they were given a call. They said the check must have been lost in the mail but assured us a new one would be sent.
Now for the comedy, the check arrived listing the sales price at $850 with $212.50 deducted for the commission. But that isn't all, there was an Ins. Fee for $12.50. Are you laughing yet? If not you soon will be. They also charged $150 for the second auction and $300 for their illustration. Wow! We jumped for joy at the final figure $174.75. With the buyer's premium the painting sold for $1063, less what they paid Daryle Lambert for the club $174.75 so if my math is right Christie's kept $888.25. I wouldn't believe this story unless it happened to me. But be assured once stung it was my fault but there won't be another stinging at the hands of Christie's for me.
So, what should Christie's or any other auction house have done? Remember, they set the estimate and the reserve for the first auction. When bidding for an item doesn't reach the reserve, I'd like to see a new set of pricing rules kick in. There shouldn't be a charge for placement in a second auction. They should never insist that an item be auctioned with no reserve. The commission should be lowered. The seller should be offered the chance to take the item back at no cost other than shipping and insurance charges. We choose an auction house based in part upon their best estimate of the amount of money the item will bring. When the auction house misses its own estimate, let's be fair and try to make things right with the seller rather than eke out the most profit you can.
WARNING – WARNING – WARNING – You be your own judge as to future transactions with Christie's.