As noted above by Karl Moulton, it can be difficult, if not
impossible, for numismatic researchers to learn the true
identity of auction consignors. Often, this is at the request
of consignors, many of whom prefer to remain anonymous.
A recent article about art auctions in The Wall Street Journal
(March 2, 2001, pW10), notes
"In the past, sellers at auction
have always insisted on anonymity - for tax reasons, out of
decorum, and just in case an artwork turns out to be of
The article calls seller anonymity
"an auction-house sacred cow", and discusses a court case
that may force open the veil of anonymity.
"In January, Christie's International sold off an American
mahogany card table for $149,000. The problem is
Livermore, Maine, dealer Peter Cushman. He claims the
table was stolen from him and is suing the auctioneer in
New York State Supreme Court to get the table or his
"... To prove the desk is rightfully his, Mr. Cushman
wants Christie's to say who the seller was... If Mr.
Cushman can prove that his desk was stolen, and that
the person Christie's sold it for was in any way aware of,
or involved in, that theft, auctioneers may have to start
giving up clients' identities"
Question: what's the big deal? Sure, sellers have
always wanted anonymity, but what right do auctioneers
have to refuse to cooperate with law enforcement
officials? Why should it take a court order?
Wayne Homren, Editor
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