Rare Book Monthly

Articles - August - 2019 Issue

Understanding a Consignment Agreement

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In my capacity as a private collector, I recently received a set of consignment documents from Christie’s and found increasing clarity as to their consignment rates after first misreading the document.

 

In my experience, there are three parties to an auction sale: the consignor, the auction house and the buyer.  Each party has responsibility for their part:

 

  1. The consignor to have clear title and willingness to consign,

 

  1. The auction house, to receive, photograph and describe, then market, sell and collect payment, then care for and later deliver the item to the new buyer or, if unsold, return to the consignor;

 

  1. The buyer, to pay the hammer price plus commissions.

 

This sounds straightforward.

 

In my experience the three parties are: consignor, auction house, and buyer but in the Christie’s term sheet “consignor” is replaced by “seller” and the term consignor not even used.   The agreement itself is clear as all responsibilities of the consignor are enumerated under Charges “for selling the property.”

 

I can’t speak for what consignors’ fees were previously, but now the highest commission charged for consignments with a hammer price equal or less than $15,000 is lower than most of their competitors at this value, even including smaller regional houses. The commission decreases as the hammer price increases.  However, this probably means that they will be even more selective as to what they agree to take. In other words, you can consign lower value material, subject to the specialists’ willingness to take it on, but the consignment fee percentage will be higher when the realized price is lower. 

 

The big difference compared to consigning last year is that Christie’s has eliminated their fee schedule, streamlining the consignment process.  They know that consignors have clamored for simplicity and now, for most sellers of books and manuscripts, the only costs are the seller’s commission and packing and shipping to and from a Christie’s saleroom.

  

When consigning, bring a fresh perspective.  Past is not prologue.  The rules and terms are always changing.  Selling at auction costs real money but works because, on the day appointed, much more often than not, the auction house finds buyers.

 

For those of you, and I am among them, who recently won lots at Christie’s there is also a graded list of buyer’s commissions that decline as higher levels of purchase are reached:

 

 

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Abraham Lincoln, <i>Emancipation Proclamation by the President of the United States,</i> pamphlet, 1862. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the distinguished Ruby-Jackson family, Portland, Maine, 1853-1961. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens & the persons who served him, 1866-1907. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Autograph book with inscriptions by orators Moses Roper & Peter Williams, 1821-54. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Archive of letters, postcards, and greeting cards sent by Romare Bearden, 1949-87. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br>E. Simms Campbell, <i>A Night-Club Map of Harlem,</i> in inaugural issue of Manhattan, 1933. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Papers of the comedian Nipsey Russell, including a letter from MLK, 1929-2000. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Early German-American anti-slavery broadside, <i>Sclaven-Handel,</i> Philadelphia, 1794. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Edmonia Lewis, prominent sculptor, carte-de-visite by Henry Rocher, c. 1866-71. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br><i>The Black Panther: Black Community News Service,</i> 44 issues, San Francisco, 1967-1971. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Withers, <i>I Am A Man, Sanitation Workers Strike,</i> silver print, 1968. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> <i>March For Freedom Now!,</i> poster for the 1960 Republican Convention. $4,000 to $6,000.

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