The Shipping Dilemma Collector Chats

May 10, 2024

So, the other week, I made a purchase from a very good auction house in upstate New York through one of the online auction platforms. Most of us are pretty comfortable with this way of bidding, and, frankly, it is a great way of finding stuff in out of the way spots. I generally always read the bidder instructions, but this time I missed out that the auction house was relying upon the shipping company run by the live auction platform. I made my payment, which included the money for the item plus applicable premium and taxes as well as a $150 shipping charge. Today, shipping is expensive, and so I was not taken aback by this amount since the object was an early 19th century oil-on-canvas painting and would become part of the museums permanent collection. This was on Feb. 4. I am sure you are already guessing where this story goes. Forty-five days later, having filed a dispute with American Express (who are great about resolving such issues) and a complaint with the New York Better Business Bureau, the painting magically arrived. Lots of hours communicating with a sender who apologized profusely but not surprisingly was unable to get the job done. My reason for telling this tale, in addition to venting a bit of ire on my part, is to talk about the need for auction houses to provide shipping for their buyers. In buying online, I have used all the suggested options ranging from local UPS stores to the auction platforms shipper to the auction houses internal shipper. And if asked which I prefer, the answer, hands down, is with the auction houses internal shipping department. Why? Because I have found that the smart auctions who use their own shippers are more self-aware of their reputations. Ouch, that is harsh to say, but I would argue that those houses that bring it inside want to maintain the best relationships with their customers rather than rely on a potentially unreliable outside shipper. Now to inoculate myself, I am sure there are readers who have had bad experiences with in-house shipping by auctions. But I would argue that your avenue for making it right is far easier than a third-party outsider who you do not know. For auction houses, I know that in-house shipping can be a pain, especially with overseas bidders. And yet, with most houses selling a majority of their lots online, it frankly is just part of doing business, based on reputation alone. It is important to keep the feedback from your clients high. And if you doubt me, I encourage you to look at the online negative to positive ratio in houses that handle their own shipping compared to a third-party outsider. I have looked, and its clear the ones who use the third party not only have more negative feeback, but the auction houses, for the most part, are clearly unable to respond online to the complaints about a third party. So even as much as many houses hate to ship, it is the way of the world, and I would encourage you to get some wrapping tape and take care of your customers. Born to collect should be the motto of Peter Seiberts family. Raised in Central Pennsylvania, Seibert has been collecting and writing about antiques for more than three decades. By day, he is a museum director and has worked in Pennsylvania, Wyoming, Virginia and New Mexico. In addition, he advises and consults with auction houses throughout the Mid-Atlantic region, particularly about American furniture and decorative arts. Seiberts writings include books on photography, American fraternal societies and paintings. He and his family are restoring a 1905 arts and crafts house filled with years worth of antique treasures found in shops, co-ops and at auctions.
Peter Seibert

Peter Seibert

Peter Seibert, a native Pennsylvanian, grew up in the antiques business and remains closely tied to auction houses, collectors, and dealers. Professionally, he has served as museum director and public historian in Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Virginia. He holds an M.A. in American Studies from Penn State and has authored two books and numerous articles on decorative arts, interior design, and history.


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