AE Monthly

Articles - July - 2011 Issue

A Book Still Worth Reading:  Anatomy of an Auction

Anatomy-3

The garden of good and evil

Whether through incompetence, or the auctioneer’s criminal complicity, - a possibility given the magnitude of their failure and the documented inclusion of several unidentified non-bidding participants in the ring, the stage was set for a ring, composed of some eighty complicit dealers, to agree among themselves to have only one representative of their coterie bid on each item.  To avoid the impression of ‘ringing’ they gave the responsibility for bidding to a group of shills in exchange for a share of the certain to be realized profits that would arise from the subsequent private re-auctions to be held by the conspirators once the original sale was completed.  To establish the highest price any of the ringers would pay, the premium above the original auction price to be shared by all conspirators equally, a series of after-auctions was held.  To ensure the ring bought all books its members wanted they when necessary ran up outside bidders to prices approaching retail, in this way killing outside interest in continuing to bid.  The auction house’s incompetence in description and weak promotion did the rest.

The books in the original sale brought £3,714 of which the ring paid £3,161 for 447 lots.  They ignored the rubbish and in other cases made competitors pay dearly.  Then in four subsequent rounds of private bidding ring members bid and paid in an additional £15,981 to establish the final prices and ultimate winners for the 447 lots and then divided the excess premium equally for the first two rounds of post-sale bidding and then proportionately to the ever smaller pools competing for the most valuable material.  The fact that records were kept and that Arthur and Janet Freeman carefully researched and told the story in 1990 is why it comes down to us today.  Their account confirms the ring’s collusion and conveniently calculates its scale.  What the ring paid £3,161 to acquire they immediately re-priced among themselves at £19,142, the original winning auction bids of £3,161 pounds and their additional premium of £15,981.  In doing this they thwarted the consignor and the auctioneers causing the books to pass to them for only 16.5% of what they immediately after agreed to pay. 

AE Monthly


Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions