The auction room was once a mysterious and almost scary place for a new collector. According to popular auction myth, a scratch of your nose or wink of an eye and suddenly the auctioneer was hammering a lot your way. While I'm not sure that's actually happened, there was certainly the threat of competing bids from the chandelier, secret reserves placed on behalf of the seller, and house bids designed to drive you toward your limits.
Today's auction room has become much more transparent, with reserve prices in coin auctions usually disclosed in advance, large high quality photos available for viewing online, and wide accessibilty of prior sales data all seeming to level the playing field on behalf of bidders. Additionally, with the rise in popularity of eBay, as well as the many online auction venues operated by individual dealers, buyers have become more comfortable with buying coins through an auction format instead of negotiating privately with a dealer.
However, there are a number of items that are not mentioned in auction company advertising, nor are they included in the terms of sale.
The auction company's obligation is to protect the interests of the consignor, not the potential buyer. A client relationship exists, or should exist, between the auction company and the consignor. As a buyer, your relationship is at best that of a customer whereby the auctioneer should answer your questions truthfully, but will not protect you from making a mistake on your own, and will not make disclosures that you don't specifically request. In practice, my experience is that auction companies encourage their bidders to be overly aggressive, especially if the consignor is a close client of the auctioneer, or when the auctioneer holds a prinipal interest in the items being sold.
A significant portion of the lots offered for sale by the two major U.S. Coin auction houses are owned by those firms or their affliliates. Without question, the auction houses cannot provide impartial advice to bidders on items in which they hold a principal interest.
At least one of the major auction companies tracks your prior bidding in order to predict your future interest. They record your bidding activity, noting where you have been the underbidder, even when from the auction floor. Armed with that knowledge, they then know just how hard to to push you toward your bidding limits as coins in your areas of interest are offered.
Auction cataloguers are eager to point a prior sale at a record price, or to draw attention to a favorable comp. However, their memories often become selective when it comes time to reveal a weak prior sale, if a coin has repeatedly failed to sell in prior auctions, or sold previously at a lower certified grade. Even important pedigrees such as Eliasberg, Garrett, Norweb and Pittman have been ignored so as not to expose coins that have been cleaned or doctored.
An auction agent represents an auction buyer in a client relationship. This client relationship demands that the agent place the interests of the client before his own, and that the agent make his best efforts to discover and disclose all known relevant information about the lot in question.
We act as buyer's agents at all major U.S. coin auctions. Our fee is per lot, is based upon the final auction price realized, and is assessed only on those lots where we are the winning bidder, as follows:
For less than the next auction increment, we act on your behalf and protect your interest on the auction floor. Prior to the sale, we discuss condition and our opinion of the certified grade, we search for any prior sales history and recent comparable sales, and discover hidden provenance and current ownership when possible. At the sale, we bid on your behalf under our name to protect your privacy. After the sale, we take delivery and handle payment, all in as discreet a manner as possible.