ATG letter: Auction house charges – let’s focus on the real issues

Extracted from Antiques Trade Gazette 

In a letter to ATG, auctioneer Michael Roberts of PFK Penrith defends auction house commissions saying “the majority of regional firms offer a good service, fairly priced”.

ATG’s recent article about the Advertising Standards Authority ruling regarding Christie’s ‘misleading’ notification of extra fees charged has led to some debate about auction houses making their charges clear to customers.

MADAM – I refer to DA Carter’s letter regarding auction house fees (ATG No 2366), which is the latest in a current wave of apparent auction house bashing.

Absolutely, any reputable firm should be crystal clear regarding charges and I know that my firm certainly is.

Regardless of what many might perceive, your common-or-garden regional auction house is not extravagantly profitable and thus we need to charge appropriately to make the whole thing worthwhile. I have six staff, a large warehouse, rates, van upkeep, advertising and so on to consider.

Many people do like to moan about commission levels, but if it’s on a £50 wardrobe there’s not much to show for it after the item has been moved around the saleroom, assembled, photographed and catalogued. It’s not surprising that increasing numbers of auction houses are doing away with general auctions!

My view, however, is that auction houses play an important role in the ‘art’ ecosystem in bringing items to the market, engaging with private clients, deceased estates, etc.

Good service and fair
Certainly there are a few bad eggs with excessive commission charges and who appear to have spent the money earnt on flashy websites, premises and excess staff, but the majority of regional firms offer a good service, fairly priced.

I don’t begrudge any dealer making any amount of unspecified profit on an item he/she might buy from my saleroom, so perhaps it’s time for everyone to take a deep breath and focus on the real issues: how to improve the industry’s marketing, how to encourage more vendors and buyers, and how to improve standards etc.

Just a suggestion, no doubt controversial.

The poacher/gamekeeper stuff is old hat – it’s time to move on.

Michael Roberts

Head of department, PFK Penrith, Cumbria