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The E-Sylum: Volume 4, Number 11, March 11, 2001, Article 9


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 dubious provenance."

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 money back


"... 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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