The changes were announced on July 31 by first minister Mark Drakeford. A government statement said that from August 3 “pubs, bars, restaurants, cafes will be able to reopen indoors. As will indoor bowling alleys, auction houses and bingo halls.”
However, the news was greeted with caution by at least two Welsh salerooms.
Rogers Jones in Cardiff and Colwyn Bay has been open to the public by pre-arranged appointment only, with bidding conducted online only.
Ben Rogers Jones said: “While we recognise the announcement from the Welsh government that auction houses in Wales are now permitted to be fully open, Rogers Jones & Co has made the decision to continue with a policy of no bidding in the room at both our salerooms, until further notice. The health and well-being of our auction team and our clients are central to this decision.
“Our auction calendar has returned to normal but both our auction houses are open on a strictly by appointment basis, whether that be for viewing sales, enquiries, appraisals, or for collections. Bidding can be online, by commission, and in some cases on the phone.”
Rogers Jones added: “In my view, it is interesting to see that the government has bracketed auction houses together with pubs, bars, restaurants and bingo halls in this reopening announcement; but for those other businesses, the presence of the public at the venue is the life-blood, while for auction houses the internet is the critical component, in this day and age.
“There may be some bidders who are disappointed with this decision and we sympathise with them – we too love the drama, the tension and fun that auction room bidders bring. However, we must put the health of our community first.”
Rogers Jones said room bidding will not be allowed for the upcoming ‘flagship’ auctions in Cardiff: The Welsh Sale and Selections & Collections on September 12. He added: “Of course, we look forward to welcoming our buyers back to raise paddles at our Cardiff and Colwyn Bay venues when we feel utterly confident that the time is appropriate.”
Nigel Hodson, managing principal at Carmarthen auction house Peter Francis, agreed. “We are resisting making an early return to the traditional way things used to be,” he said. “We are finding that the extended viewing times which are strictly by appointment are working well with the steady flow of people being easily managed with less staff and natural social distancing.
“We are getting some requests for buyers to attend the auction itself and as an auctioneer I am not finding conducting sales on screen much fun and certainly more tiring. Opening a sale with an empty saleroom is distinctly odd after 47 years with a gavel.
“However, we feel the auctions are doing very well with online platforms as well as commission bids and a few phone lines and at present, at least for another month, maybe two, that is the way we will continue.”
Hodson added that he was wondering if this clinical social-distanced way of running auctions was becoming “the new way, possibly long term.”
He added: “Certainly, certain aspects do have an appeal, although the atmosphere and buzz of an auction is definitely lost. Maybe this was always going to happen progressively with the greater involvement of the internet and the advent of live bidding over the last few years. Auctions are theatre as well as business and the theatre has gone.”
“As many have said, we are having to get used to a new norm.”
Auction house premises in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Ireland (under restrictions) have been open to the public since earlier in the summer. Dealers were able to reopen in Wales on June 22.