January 9, 2017 in Daily Bulletin
Park West is a firm that holds art auctions on cruises, earning as much as $400 million a year. Vernon Silver somehow convinced his editors to pay for a ticket on a ship so he could observe the auction:
- Wi-fi onboard ships can be unreliable making it difficult to validate the price quotes that auctioneers offer on a boat.
- The organizers also make sure they supply bidders with plenty of alcohol as they hold up their cards.
- Attendants will identify high-spenders and sit with them, offering off the record “tips” about smart buys.
- Bidders don’t take the art off the boat themselves. Instead Park West will mail to them the pieces that they bid on.
- What customers may not be aware is that Park West pieces are mass-produced, and the art they see on the ship is illustrative – what they end up getting might not be a perfect replica of what they bid on.
- This leads to some shady tactics. In one bidding cycle the auctioneer asked which participants would be willing to pay $5 for a piece of work – with everybody putting their paddles up. The auctioneer progressed to $70, where eight paddles remained aloft, and then abruptly ended bidding.
- Park West had just earned $560 selling multiple replicas of the same art. Bidders later confessed that they thought only one person would win – giving them more of an opportunity to think about putting down their paddles.
- Park West, for its part, defends itself by claiming that it has a 40-day refund policy and a 40-month exchange policy.
Silver’s firsthand account of the auction is fascinating and worth a read. Find it on Bloomberg.