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      Read the rules at the top of this page before posting.   12/30/16

      The rules are copied here for your convenience: The Auction Scroll is for sharing opinions on instruments listed and offered for sale online on this site or any other. It is for the civil exchange of ideas and opinions about the instruments themselves. The opinions expressed are solely those of the poster, and do not represent the opinion of Maestronet or its forum moderators. Personal attacks on individuals will not be tolerated and will result in banning from participation in the forums. For example you are free to state that in your opinion a certain instrument labelled such and such is or is not authentic. You can also support your opinion with facts as you see them, as long as you make no reference to the individual or company listing the instrument or use hearsay in your argument. You cannot say for example that such and such an instrument is not authentic because you know the individual listing the instrument is not trustworthy or you believe the company routinely uses false descriptions of its instruments. That will get you banned. Similarly, you can defend the authenticity of an instrument with the facts as you see them, as long as personal attacks and hearsay are not used. For example, you could refer to the shape of the f holes in support of a certain origin, but what you cannot do is attack any individuals that may hold a different opinion. This is a unique forum, so please abide by these rules to ensure it continues in its current form.
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Brad H

Auction Houses and Online Bidding

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Over the last several years I have participated in several of the East Coast and UK auction house stringed instrument sales.as an online bidder.   The experience has been a lesson and one which leaves me questioning whether auction houses can do more to provide information to online bidders who don't attend viewings.   Since I am rather new to these institutions and have never attended a live  auction, I am hoping those with more experience will set me straight and/or give me some perspective.  I suppose a specific example will help me explain the above sentiment.

One of several violins I won at a November auction arrived and it has been discussed in this thread.   I suppose that my block against seeing this as a Chinese violin was that I expected something else based on the lot estimate ($800 - 1200....not to imply that Chinese violins can't be worth that amount) .  This auction house has rather small pictures and a minimalist description; in this case the description basically said it was a violin and gave the label information and LOB.  I knew the label was phony but I thought it looked decent in the small pictures.  I won it within the estimate. 

When it arrived my first impressions were of the thick varnish and how new it looked.  I did a quick setup and the tone was not very pleasant.  Seeing the plate thicknesses were not appropriate for the arching, I opened it to improve the tone and saw several things that bothered me.  There was varnish overspray inside the violin indicating that the varnish had been sprayed on.  I have been around violins for a while but this is the first time I have come across this (any thoughts on the quality implications of this practice?).  Further, it was obvious that the label had been poorly glued over the remnants of an original label which, If I had shone a flashlight in the f-holes, would have been visible.  As others pointed out in the thread, it has characteristics of being of Chinese origin.

I contacted the auction house and let them know that I was not expecting a new Chinese violin with sprayed on varnish and that I thought their estimate had been too high (an assumption on my part since I have little experience with Chinese violins and zero experience with sprayed varnish).  I also requested that, since online bidders are unable to hold the violin in their hands (this obvious statement is really the crux of my post),  bigger pictures and more specific descriptions were needed.    In the response that I received was the information that the 2nd high bidder was a live bidder in the room (that did make me feel better), and a copy of the Conditions of Sale, which read:

"2. 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, of 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 such a warranty of representation or an assumption of liability.

Maybe this is a standard liability limitation clause but, in my opinion, it is almost unethical, especially because of the online bidders who are not able to pick up and inspect the violins in person.  I responded with this sentiment and added that, in light of the probable immense profits from online bidding, auction houses had a responsibility to provide better information to these bidders-and take some of those profits to provide bigger pictures and a description which at least gives an approximate age and an origin, if known.    I suggested that this particular lot could have been described as, " Chinese violin, ca. 2010, labeled xxxxxxxx (over original label).  Condition report:  "Varnish overspray on inside of back) ,  I also asked this appraiser what he thought the violin was when he set the estimate, but I have not heard back and doubt that I will.  By the way, After the regrad and rebar, it sounds much better.

Any thoughts (even if it is just, "bidder beware")?

  Or, would you care to comment  on how online bidding has altered auction bidding in general?  For instance, let's say you attend a live auction in person after attending the viewing.  You like lot 82, even though you saw that it needs a neck reset and the peg holes need bushing.  When lot 82 comes up, you are outbid by 5 different online bidders who bid significantly more than you had planned because they had no idea that the violin needed the reset and bushing.  Or, you liked the looks of hypothetical lot 142 but, after playing it, you quickly put it down and walked away, thinking to yourself that the plates were too thin.  During the auction, you sit that one out but are amazed by the bidding war for that lot by online bidders.

Given  the vast amount of information available to live viewers that is unavailable to online bidders, can auction houses do better in trying to level the playing field? 

How do you, as one who has been a regular live auction participant over many years, view the increasing(?) encouragement of and participation of online bidders?

 

 

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The auction houses I have dealt have done a good job answering questions above and beyond what was provided in their descriptions and condition reports. Of course you cant think to ask everything, and likewise they cant spend all of their time documenting every detail about an instrument. So in the end you will probably always be in a weaker position when buying sight unseen.

If you buy a lot of fiddles you are bound to have buyers remorse at some point, I think some of the mistakes I made were with instruments I saw in person and still used poor judgment.

 

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Good points, Dean, especially about your mistake with the fiddle in hand. .  And yes, I have received gracious and patient assistance from the houses I have dealt with (in the specific case above, I think my inquiry was too late for a reply).    I know at least some of this relates to lessons I need to learn and strategies to avoid surprises.  I wonder what the response would have been if I had inquired about the age and origin of the above-mentioned violin?  I do appreciate the houses that provide large pictures, side views, and have more complete descriptions and condition reports.  

45 minutes ago, deans said:

So in the end you will probably always be in a weaker position when buying sight unseen.

Yes, I suppose you are right.  It sure would be nice to have an auction or a viewing on the west coast.

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54 minutes ago, Brad H said:

It sure would be nice to have an auction or a viewing on the west coast.

That would be sweet, maybe Tarisio could open up an office some day. I used to live in the DC area and would take the train up to NY, sometimes there was a Tarisio and Skinner viewing the same day, great fun.

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11 hours ago, Brad H said:

.................. a copy of the Conditions of Sale, which read:

"2. 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, of 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 such a warranty of representation or an assumption of liability................................

 

 

No offense intended to anyone, but, IMHO, compared with an institution adhering to the attitudes reflected in those Conditions, eBay is a bastion of integrity. and a buyers' paradise. :rolleyes:

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When I bid online in a non musical instrument auction house, I write asking for better pictures. Most of the times I receive better pictures and could bid with more information.

Sometimes I bid with small pictures and poor description but never bid more than  70£-90£.

The worst bids I made was in some musical instrument specialist auction, let myself going by the description of the auction house and paying more than I have to.

 

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Brad H, maybe you are suffering from a misunderstanding about auctions.

An auction house acts for the consignor, and does everything it can to get the best price for the item consigned. From the consignor's point of view, the wider the net of potential buyers the better. But for the buyer it's strictly "caveat emptor".

Given the above, I don't think it would be sensible for anyone to buy online sight unseen, unless they have a very high degree of experience in identification.

Having said that, the catalogue descriptions and condition reports of some auction houses are very reliable, but unless you have gone to many auctions in person, how can you know...?

How do I view the increasing participation of online only bidders? It doesn't bother me, since they inevitably pay over the odds for things whose shortcomings they are not aware of, and yet they aren't prepared to risk a serious amount of money for something truly excellent because they haven't had a proper look at it. 

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20 minutes ago, martin swan said:

An auction house acts for the consignor, and does everything it can to get the best price for the item consigned. From the consignor's point of view, the wider the net of potential buyers the better. But for the buyer it's strictly "caveat emptor".

I agree with this post in general. But (the good) auction houses do work for the buyers too. I believe they value repeat customers on both ends of the deal and I've seen evidence of this. If they create have a system that  dumps all of the risk on the buyers they will soon have none.

I also believe that sometimes that they don't always act in the best interested consignor either, sometimes you will have "sellers remorse" I think there was a post about this about a year ago.

 

 

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On 2018.01.11. at 8:13 AM, Violadamore said:

No offense intended to anyone, but, IMHO, compared with an institution adhering to the attitudes reflected in those Conditions, eBay is a bastion of integrity. and a buyers' paradise. :rolleyes:

Yes! Agree

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7 hours ago, martin swan said:

 

 

An auction house acts for the consignor, and does everything it can to get the best price for the item consigned. From the consignor's point of view, the wider the net of potential buyers the better. But for the buyer it's strictly "caveat emptor".

 

Since I'm sure you are probably right, it does leave one wondering why, and with what justification they all charge the buyer a 20%ish “Buyers Premium”

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Just now, jacobsaunders said:

Since I'm sure you are probably right, it does leave one wondering why, and with what justification they all charge the buyer a 20%ish “Buyers Premium”

Because they can? :lol:

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46 minutes ago, jacobsaunders said:

Since I'm sure you are probably right, it does leave one wondering why, and with what justification they all charge the buyer a 20%ish “Buyers Premium”

When i started buying at auction most auction house apart from Sothebys Christies ,Bonhams etc.. had a buyers premium of around 10 %, since online bidding became the fashion most are now at a similar rate to the big city /London  auctioneers. Also online live bidding usually attracts a further 3% from whichever live outlet you use. though one i remember lets you pay a small fee upfront instead of the 3 %,but thats only profitable if you actually buy anything.

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My point was more a philosophical one: Should we accept Martins thesis, that the auctioneer is exclusively working for the benefit of the consignor, it would seem strange, what business he/she/it has charging the buyer 20%(varies) commission. Since the act of charging a substantial sum suggests a contractual relationship, one should be able to expect some sort of service in return. In my side job as court expert, I have noticed that liability cannot be easily evaded. It, of course, makes a difference if an auctioneer advertises a violin as e.g. “A violin, estimate 10 quid” or if he advertises it as, e.g. a violin, Italy, 18th. C. Family of whatever”.

 

I would dispute the thought of Ebay in this discussion, since buying something quasi unseen from an anonymous (often) scoundrel in a foreign country hardly seems to justify the title “law of the jungle”.

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Having been at Christie’s when the buyer’s commission went up, the argument (which I thought was heinous at the time and still do) was that it “increased competitiveness” by allowing the company to be more competitive in terms of the vendor’s commission. Much longer ago there was a lawsuit brought about by a syndicate of antique dealers against Sotheby’s and Christie’s offering 0% commission to sellers when in fact there were hidden charges put over to the buyer. The ruling was that there was nothing illegal in this practice, though the judge made it clear that his sympathies where with the moral case against them. 

Of course, when Christie’s increased the premium, and mysteriously Sotheby’s followed suit 3 months later without the slightest scent of collusion, Small auction houses followed suit.  It allows them to be competitive and profitable at the higher end for sure, but for most things sold it’s just a massive scam to print money. 

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4 hours ago, jacobsaunders said:

My point was more a philosophical one: Should we accept Martins thesis, that the auctioneer is exclusively working for the benefit of the consignor, it would seem strange, what business he/she/it has charging the buyer 20%(varies) commission. Since the act of charging a substantial sum suggests a contractual relationship, one should be able to expect some sort of service in return. In my side job as court expert, I have noticed that liability cannot be easily evaded. It, of course, makes a difference if an auctioneer advertises a violin as e.g. “A violin, estimate 10 quid” or if he advertises it as, e.g. a violin, Italy, 18th. C. Family of whatever”.

 

 

Agree completely.

In reality, some do offer a degree of service/redress etc, but this is informal and outside of their terms and conditions.

Before Bonhams stopped selling musical instruments they had pretty much given up cataloguing anything as more than "a violin, 18th century" - I think they had had some legal challenges on exactly these grounds ie "what am I getting for my 25% buyer's premium?".

The auction houses were set up to service informed trade buyers. These are repeat customers (if not entirely loyal).

Musicians are one-off purchasers - the only incentive for pursuing them must be that they will pay considerably more for an item than an informed buyer would, and if they are dis-satisfied they weren't going to come back for more anyway.

This new market demands greater and greater security (certificates, guarantees, bigger photos etc), but ultimately you can't act for the consignor and the buyer unless you determine a fair sale price.

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On January 11, 2018 at 1:13 AM, Violadamore said:

No offense intended to anyone, but, IMHO, compared with an institution adhering to the attitudes reflected in those Conditions, eBay is a bastion of integrity. and a buyers' paradise. :rolleyes:

Well, on eBay there is essentially no chance to inspect the instrument in-person, and often times eBay pictures are horrible and the descriptions nonexistent. On thing that the auction houses could do is to increase the number of standardized pictures for each violin, including standardizing close-ups of the interiors and exteriors. Also, pictures of the mortices of bows would be helpful.

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22 minutes ago, GeorgeH said:

Well, on eBay there is essentially no chance to inspect the instrument in-person, and often times eBay pictures are horrible and the descriptions nonexistent. On thing that the auction houses could do is to increase the number of standardized pictures for each violin, including standardizing close-ups of the interiors and exteriors. Also, pictures of the mortices of bows would be helpful.

I don't think this would be in the interests of the consignors :lol:

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I wish auction houses would stop listing sale results but only archive photo's and date of sale. I often get to see a buyer saying

"why does your instrument cost 5000 when at auction houses the average is 2000"

It's hard to explain to a buyer that the instrument at auction might be fake (see this still too often at bigger auction houses) or has serious condition problems, unpopular maker's period, different model. And for bows: wrong weight, too much silver (off balanced), bad wood etc etc etc...

And not forgetting taxes, risk, insurance...

 

20% is quite low compared to the Netherlands, ~27% ouch.

 

I know one example where a person had a nice Dutch violin for sale, asking price was too high (dealer price) I didn't counter offer. He then subsequently consigned the instrument to a Dutch auction house which sold it for half, a price which I would've paid for it but not with 27% buyers premium.

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15 hours ago, martin swan said:

An auction house acts for the consignor, and does everything it can to get the best price for the item consigned

 

15 hours ago, deans said:

But (the good) auction houses do work for the buyers too.

I am sure there is some truth in both of these statements.

In the specific case above, this east coast auction house charged a 23% buyers premium and I am not satisfied that it was money well spent.  The pictures - front, back, scroll - were unusually small, the description could have been written by a 10 year-old ("Violin, LOB, labeled X"), and, of course, their COS deflected any responsibility for ANY part of the entire affair.  

What services should one expect for paying the buyer's premium?   Relevant information, professional pictures, and written assurance that the item has been represented both accurately and thoroughly (defects and construction irregularities included).   The importance of this is, of course, magnified for those who can't inspect the violin in person.   

In a situation similar  to the specific violin mentioned in my first post, I was able to return a violin to an auction house and got a full refund.  In fact,  this UK-based house actually picked up the violin from me here in Oregon - one of the specialists was on an valuation trip and was able to meet with me and graciously took back the violin. 

I also like some of the information this house provides on their lots.   They have a measurement section which includes neck overstand and fingerboard projection.  THe condition report displays a graphic of a violin (front, back, ribs, pegbox) and shows where defects are located.  And, I like their 360 degree photography; for me, the risk of buying a violin from afar is magnified if I can't get an idea of the arching.

 

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3 hours ago, martin swan said:

In reality, some do offer a degree of service/redress etc, but this is informal and outside of their terms and conditions.

When Tarisio was set up you could get an appraisal from Reuning, for a lot of people that was considerable value, especially on the east coast of the US. To be honest I'm not sure exactly what formal  expertise Tarisio offers now, I guess I should since I purchased several items over the last few years, but none of these were things that I really felt needed any type of guarantee.

I think with the both the internet and the business model that Tarisio started with (and others seem to be copying, at least parts of), auctions are no longer wholesale markets for dealers.   

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2 minutes ago, Brad H said:

 

 

I am sure there is some truth in both of these statements.

In the specific case above, this east coast auction house charged a 23% buyers premium and I am not satisfied that it was money well spent.  The pictures - front, back, scroll - were unusually small, the description could have been written by a 10 year-old ("Violin, LOB, labeled X"), and, of course, their COS deflected any responsibility for ANY part of the entire affair.  

What services should one expect for paying the buyer's premium?   Relevant information, professional pictures, and written assurance that the item has been represented both accurately and thoroughly (defects and construction irregularities included).   The importance of this is, of course, magnified for those who can't inspect the violin in person.   

In an eerily similar experience to the specific violin mentioned in my first post, I was able to return a violin to an auction house and got a full refund.  In fact,  this UK-based house actually picked up the violin from me here in Oregon - one of the specialists was on an valuation trip and was able to meet with me and graciously took back the violin.  I also like some of the information this house provides on their lots.   They have a measurement section which includes neck overstand and fingerboard projection.  THe condition report displays a graphic of a violin (front, back, ribs, pegbox) and shows where defects are located.  And, I like their 360 degree photography; for me, the risk of buying a violin from afar is magnified if I can't get an idea of the arching.

 

Ok I'll try saying it again ....

(Talking purely in the abstract without reference to particular cases)

You can't act for the consignor and the buyer simultaneously unless you are prepared to set a fair sale price and to stand by that price through some form of guarantee.

If you allow the purchaser to set the sale price through competitive bidding, you abrogate responsibility for the fairness of the price. You are walking away from the issue that is most important to a retail purchaser, value for money.

An auction house protects the seller from catastrophe by setting a reserve, but does not protect the buyer from over-paying. That is the buyer's responsibility. Auction houses practice varying degrees of disclosure, but this is always non-binding. Some auction houses are very accommodating if you or they make a mistake, others not so ...

You should expect nothing in return for your buyer's premium - it's simply an arbitrary mechanism for generating revenue.

I think this is all fair enough and I have no complaints about these matters - it's just important to understand the reality.

 

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1 minute ago, martin swan said:

but does not protect the buyer from over-paying. 

This is a good point. I live in the San Francisco Bay area, so I know a lot about overpaying. Sometimes people get carried away at auctions, its a risk, you have to know your own personality. Its hard for anyone to make some sort of guarantee that prevents that. What should the auction house do? set an upper limit?

You can overpay at dealers shops too. I know a Roth that is listed at $12K, IMO somebody is going to overpay, even though its a fine and reputable shop. Chances are that person will be happy anyway.

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11 minutes ago, martin swan said:

but does not protect the buyer from over-paying.

In an auction where bidders have incomplete information, the winner often over-pays. It is called the "Winner's Curse."

"The winner's curse is a phenomenon that may occur in common value auctions with incomplete information. The winner's curse says that in such an auction, the winner will tend to overpay. The winner may overpay or be "cursed" in one of two ways: 1) the winning bid exceeds the value of the auctioned asset such that the winner is worse off in absolute terms; or 2) the value of the asset is less than the bidder anticipated, so the bidder may still have a net gain but will be worse off than anticipated.[1] However, an actual overpayment will generally occur only if the winner fails to account for the winner's curse when bidding (an outcome that, according to the revenue equivalence theorem, need never occur)."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winner's_curse

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29 minutes ago, martin swan said:

If you allow the purchaser to set the sale price through competitive bidding, you abrogate responsibility for the fairness of the price. You are walking away from the issue that is most important to a retail purchaser, value for money.

Isn't that what auctions are all about...letting the bidders decide the price?  Sometimes, bidders will overpay, sometimes underpay and get a bargain.

 

29 minutes ago, martin swan said:

You should expect nothing in return for your buyer's premium - it's simply an arbitrary mechanism for generating revenue.

 I am sure most bidders factor the premium into how much they are willing to bid on an item.   By the way,  I should have said, "What services should an online bidder expect for participating in an auction?"

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Its funny, when I win an auction sometimes I think I must be crazy. It means I payed more than anyone else in the whole world. But still, I feel as if I have gotten some great instruments.

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