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There is now a significant differential in charges levied by the major auction houses competing for the London market. The new buyers’ rates appear to raise the stakes in a sector of the market that now also includes Bonhams’ Knightsbridge rooms, who offer the most competitive premiums, at 17.5 per cent on the first £30,000 and 10 per cent above that.

Christie’s were the first to react. They now slightly undercut Sotheby’s at the top end of the market, but have allowed themselves a greater margin in the middle market. At South Kensington they have kept to 17.5 per cent on lots up to and including £50,000 and 10 per cent on any amount over that.

With Sotheby’s Olympia rooms now charging 20 per cent up to the first £70,000 and 12 per cent above that, Christie’s South Kensington will now undercut them by 50 per cent on charges made on lots between £50,000 and £70,000.

However, the most dramatic announcement came at the end of the week when Robert Brooks revealed to the Gazette that he would make no changes to premiums at Bonhams Knightsbridge.

Bonhams in Bond Street will now be on a par with Christie’s King Street and Sotheby’s Bond Street on all lots up to £70,000, with a premium of 19.5 per cent. However, Brooks made it clear that he was making a determined bid for a greater share of the top end of the market by waiving the sellers’ commission on any lots over £70,000.

“Dropping vendors’ commission on high value objects at New Bond Street will encourage a flow of top quality lots to our saleroom,” he said. “Freezing our charges everywhere else means we offer the best terms of any international saleroom.”

“Although the rise in buyer’s premium at New Bond Street is necessary for us to remain competitive, we have held our second tier premium at 10 per cent across the board. This maintains our position as the most cost effective saleroom for all our buyers. The increased business that cutting our vendors’ commission will produce means the rise has been kept to a minimum,” he explained.

Christie’s chief executive, Edward Dolman, summed up his company’s strategy by saying that where rates had risen it would help them remain competitive in the market, adding: “We have a wide variety of premium rates at the lower pricing levels that we feel are appropriately suited to their respective markets and these are remaining unchanged.”