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The conduct of yesterday's (March 25th) photograph auction at Dorotheum in Vienna left a sour taste in the mouths of many buyers - mine included, where purchasers of most of the 19th century section found their winning bids cancelled.

The auction house had received a large consignment of 19th century prints from a geographical association and had divided it into 55 lots. The majority of lots sold, many at or above estimate.

I bought several lots and left the room. When I went to get my invoice I was handed a saleroom notice and told my bids had been voided, with all 55 lots aggregated and re-sold at the end of the section. I gather the notice had been read out at the beginning of the sale. I had wasted two days and 500 euros in expenses attending the sale.

The practice may be controversial, but is clearly not unheard of. What is however unacceptable, is that no effort had been made to inform buyers in advance that this selling strategy was going to be used - not highlighted either in the catalogue or on the website. To find out you had to be in the room for the start of the auction, and to speak German.

That they failed to draw this to the attention of buyers, and thus allow us to work out whether to invest time and money in such a lottery, ought to be below a prestigious auction house like Dorotheum, but clearly is not. It displays a disgraceful  arrogance and contempt for the customer, who pays just as much to the auction house as the vendor. I won't ever be going back, and I guess I won't be alone.

Once again a case of buyer beware - or even would-be buyer beware.

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Comment by James Kerr on March 28, 2011 at 20:24

Hi Kelvin,

It is is the small print at the back of the catalogue - so I can't dispute their legal right to do it. I think it is a poor practice at the best of times -  but to know that you are going to do it do it with a huge chunk of the sale, and not highlight this in advance is completely reprehensible.




Comment by Kelvin Jouhar on March 26, 2011 at 18:57

I would be taking legal advice if I were you. If an individual lot has attracted bids and the hammer goes down, surely, there is a contract ? Do not let them off lightly (I am NOT a lawyer)

Good luck



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