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When the Auction House is Wrong - You Pay


henrypeacham

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At least it wasn't a $50,000 violin.

But, yeah, quite incredible, esp that they would not take care of

you financially.  I don't understand why Skinners would risk

their reputation for such a small sum, especially when they know

they are in the wrong.

If you have no legal recourse, at least you can post this story on

every violin-related website on the internet.  I sure would.

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Skinner's October, 2005, instrument sale catalog contains the following provision as one of the "Conditions of Sale:"

"All property is sold 'as is,' and neither the auctioneer nor any consignor makes any warranties or representation of any kind or nature with respect to the property, and in no event shall they be responsible for the correctness, nor deemed to have made any representation or warranty, or description, genuineness, authorship, attribution, provenance, period, culture, source, origin, or condition of the property and no statement made at the sale, or in the bill of sale, or invoice or elsewhere shall be deemed a warranty of representation or an assumption of liability."

I've checked what I've typed above several times. It doesn't make sense grammatically or semantically, but it's pretty clear what they're trying to say. They're saying that they disclaim any responsibilty for the accuracy of the statements made in the catalog and the opinions of their expert.

In contrast, Tarisio's catalogs include a "Limited Authenticity Guarantee," which provides that, "within 20 days after the close of the bidding, Tarisio shall in collaboration with its chosen acceptable experts (hereinafter defined) make a determination of the genuineness of such Lot and, if Tarisio determines that the Lot is not a genuine work of the maker specified in the auction catalog or on the Auction Site, Tarisio will fully refund the purchase price...."

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Henry,

I am sorry for your experience. In David Bonsey's defense, he is really quite a good fellow and well intentioned in my experience. What you are fighting is a much larger company whose stated policy is there for all to see in their conditions of sale. The major auction houses have even more strict guarantee policies.

Christopher Reuning

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Henry,

there are couple of things you can try to recover your $1400.

First, you can file in the Small Claims Court where you live. Name Skinner and Dave Bonsey as defendants. You can claim that misrepresentation of facts, undue diligience, etc. They may realize that it will cost them more in filing paperwork and court appearance than $1400 you lost as the result of what has transpired.

Second, you can get a lawyer (or if you have family or a friend in the law business) to harass Skinner and Mr. Bonsey with threat of filing lawsuit (again locally). Same applies here - not worth their time to defend, cut the check to you (that should include your legal fees!) to make you go away.

I am saying this at the risk of being flamed by some Maestronetters, but I feel it's not fair to you that you went by their "expert" attributions on the instrument you bought, you were put through a wringer and still got the short end of the stick. Sue them - it's the American Way!

I don't know Mr. Bonsey personally and will take Christopher Reunings et al posts that he is a nice guy. I think he made an honest mistake. However, having said that, if he gets paid by Skinner as their in-house "expert", then he and/or Skinner should pay restituition for the mistake made.

OK, I am running back to my day job while putting my "flame resistant" suit.

ATB, Gary

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If I have a really sweet and well intentioned car mechanic who did a really bad job on my car, I will certainly tell people that he isn't very good at car repair.

Others may think that he did a good job with their cars and they will recommend him.

If he generally does a good job, his reputation will survive my bad experience. If not...maybe he shouldn't be repairing cars.

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Erika,

I totally agree with Henry. This is a case of misrepresentation and requires a restitution action on the part of Skinner/Bonsey. I would be hesitant to go with the "fraud" wording.

Most of the major auction houses have the pretty similar definitions of "by", "attributed", "probably by", "school of" and "labeled" spelled out quite clearly. Tarisio, I think, has theirs posted on their website. All big name retail shops tend to follow the same scales. The definitions above when attached to an instrument on sale do influence the price. "Expert" certification provides the support cover for the definition.

So, if the auction house sells an instrument with a WRONG definition which is supported by an INHOUSE EXPERT's certificate which results in an inflated final price and then takes it back to sell it under different LOWER definition resulting in a lower price sold yet pockets seller/buyer premiums twice, gee... Is it a misrepresentation? Should they be accountable for that? Hmm...

ATB, Gary

P.S. Either it's a slow day in the Maestronet world or the topic is not interesting to most, but thank you all - I'll take that "antiflame" suit off.

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quote:


Originally posted by:
henrypeacham

"....Thank you for your message. While I do know and respect both Eric and Hans Benning, I do stand by my attribution for this instrument.

It looks to me that when he said "I do stand by" he meant broadly the same thing that Reagan, Bush 1, Clinton, and Bush 2 meant/mean when they say "I take full responsibility". I.e., nothing.

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If legal action were to be considered (sadly, not worth the expense

given the amounts involved) then I think yaumnik's point is the

strongest, even considering Skinner's questionable "waiver"

statement:

By re-auctioning the violin with a different designation, they

admit one of two things:

1:  We commit fraud (legally, fraud only has

to be implied) 

or

2:  Our expert appraisals are completely meaningless.

Which will be worse for their business? 

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For sure the sale with a different description is an admission that they no longer believe the first description. BTW, I don't usually jump into this type of bashing, but beyond my sympathy for the buyer, I think it is very important that the major violin auction houses do this right. If it's a fly-by-night auction house or even a so-so retailer, I expect the appropriate treatment. I don't expect this from a first class auction house and one of the top experts in this field.

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quote:


Originally posted by:
Erika

A "by" attribution just means that in the auction house's opinion, the instrument is by that maker. It's not a guarantee. It's definitely not a certificate. The burden of determining the value of the instrument ultimately falls to the bidder.

Neither is a certificate a guarantee; it is still only an opinion, but supposedly that of a qualified expert. A bidder indeed makes the ultimate determination of value, but in order to do so, the auction house should be required to provide some basic and reliable information regarding what they claim to be offering (their "opinion" by their "qualified expert"). Skinner's did not stand behind their (mis)representation in this case. Their failure to cancel the auction is, IMO, unconscionable, and if this is indicative of the way they conduct business, I'm all for forewarning other potential auction bidders.

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Hi Allen, your reply may be the closet yet to the auction scene. In

short, after being both a buyer and seller at many major

auctions houses over the past 40 years it seems it is the same

story in at least one respect. People buy names (labels, auction

houses & dealers)) while ebay stays on the junk heap. I can say

for a fact that many ebay instruments now seen at

auctions ended up there, all because the "name" of the house gave

the buyers some kind of security. I will not live long enough

to see the time that is coming in which many modern Italian

violins with papers from some very well know dealers will

prove to be fake, and perhaps the dealers will also not be around

any longer. Then what does the buyer do?

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Auctions are near and dear to my heart. I spent a good chunk of my life attending 4-5 auto auctions a week. Auto auctions are restricted to dealers who have registered with the auction. Public auto auctions are something else. The dealer-only auctions are often huge and provide the primary means of disposal of leased vehicles as well as a dealer trade-ins. The market is liquid, meaning that there is a ready buyer for everything at a price. The auctions do a great deal to protect the buyer, but not necessarily even-handedly. There are required disclosures, a post-auction inspection period, and certain warranties for hidden damage that are not necessarily time limited. A large buyer from a big chain of dealerships will get preferred treatment when issues arise. The pointealers take care of themselves and each other. Auctions know that the buyer is the real customer.

The public auction, like Christies, Sotheby's, Skinner, etc. is a different beast. Sure, it is a clearing house for dealers who wish to buy or sell. But despite the genteel veneer and well-meaning and well-intentioned employees, the public is the "mark". The fact that sellers are anonymous (not permitted in auto auctions) means that there is no resourse or harm to their reputation by misrepresentation, or attempts to defraud or conceal damage. Often consignments are items that are intended for public bid, as dealers know better. It is an auction, and there are many traps and gaping potholes to avoid. Specifically with stringed instruments and art, things that are commonly faked, there is likely to be a huge range of opinion among experts. Who is right-who is wrong? The door is wide open for misrepresentation-especially unintentional misrepresentation. The auction's "expert" is charged with identifying the entire range of instruments brought to him for consignment. Often, they get little help from other experts, and have to rely on their own opinions. Many things are unattributable, but the auctioneer has a duty to his consigner to be reasonably optimistic and a duty to the buyer to be reasonably skeptical.

Lets say a fine 18th century Italian violin up for auction is conservatively described as "School of Guarneri" when the most important experts and dealers can certify it as Peter or whomever, and it has a low estimate because of the lack of attribution. The expert dealers in the gallery buy it for 10 times the estimate after much frenzied bidding and rampant rumors of its real maker. With certification by the esperts who bought it, the violin is now worth 10 times what they paid. Great deal for the buyer! But how about the old lady who consigned her late husband's fine del Gesu without knowing its true value, and only relying on her husband's instructions that it was a good thing and needed to go to a major auction house? Is the lack of optimistic and proper attribution by the auction house also misrepresentation? The experts have to walk a very fine line that I don't think is realistic.

I might buy as many as 20 lots at a major auction. I have a price for everything. If I screw up on one or two, it isn't a big deal. I have bought stuff that I lost a lot on. I have relied on attributions and bad certificates. I can absorb the occasional mistake because I am a dealer and can spread the loss over many purchases. But for the private buyer looking for a single instrument at auction, the chance of being disappointed or paying too much is quite high. As a dealer, I hate to see individuals pay near-retail prices at auction. I would much prefer that they be so afraid and skeptical as to be willing to pay nearly nothing. I would prefer seeing the large houses stop attempts at attribution except when substantial provenance and independant certs are obtainable. I would rather see the house expert relieved from the responsibility of having to attribute at all. Then there will be no misrepresentation-at least by the auction house.

I have sympathy for losses suffered when a person relies in good faith on the word of another. And I believe that a person should stand behind his word. But, I would like to see auctions without the hint of warranty, and without "expert" representation. Caveat Emptor (Iwas looking for the right place to use that phrase) Let the item being auctioned stand on its own and let speculation rule the day. The auction is not a retail environment and I believe attempts by auctions to attract retail buyers and provide limited guarantees of representations made will eventually discourage both the dealers and the public.

WOW, am I a load of hot air or what?

Jesse

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No hot there, Jesse. But I would add a further perspective. Markets work best for society at large when there is full information for all involved. If that information only consists of the fact that "there is no informaton," then your fully speculative environment is indeed the ideal. Of course, markets work best for individuals when some individuals have information that others do not have. In the case of the Skinners "Banks" violin, perhaps the seller knew it was not a Banks. Good for the seller, bad for the buyer, and bad for the economy because no value is created by the transaction. (In fact the transfer from seller to buyer is much like a tax that raises the cost of such transaction and discourages trade.) Much more likely, this in an intermediate case, where the seller thought it was a Banks. In that case, full information would have been either to use the "attributed to" description or to provide a fuller disclosure of Skinners track record on misidentification or lack of financial responsibility. Dealing with the public, you shouldn't say "Made by" and then count on people reading thru your fine print to find a total disclaimer. You are either offering items with warranty or not -- it is wrong to imply a warranty that does not exist. Moreover, I don't believe that disclaimer in the fine print would stand up in court. Major stock brokers have lost many times for recommending companies to small investors that they knew or should have known were worthless.

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