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The government has published a list of ‘non-essential’ businesses that must close their doors to the public.

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The government’s updated list of businesses affected by the current coronavirus shutdown includes all antiques shops, centres, galleries, fairs, markets and auction houses.

Cancellations announced last week included both of London’s flagship summer fairs: The Art & Antiques Fair Olympia (scheduled for June 18-28) and Masterpiece (June 25-July 1).

The prime minister’s announcement on March 23 left all members of the trade – dealers and auctioneers – seeking new ways to operate wherever possible.

Alongside a move to digital channels, ATG received an extraordinary reaction to its offer to publish a regular selection of dealers’ stock. The first fruits of this initiative (that will continue throughout the crisis) feature in this issue.

All UK auction house premises are now temporarily closed to the public and a number of salerooms have taken the decision to postpone all sales for April at least.

However, necessity has been the mother of invention with some firms now running ‘live online only’ events where bidding takes place via the internet, phone bidding and commissions left on the book with no bidders in the room.

‘No contact’ delivery

Lyon & Turnbull said it was using video conferencing software, remote bidding via online platforms and a ‘no contact’ delivery service via Mail Boxes Etc to continue selling in April.

“The vast majority of our vendors have given the new format their approval and indeed have welcomed the opportunity to transact at this time,” said L&T vice-chairman Paul Roberts.

Ewbank’s in Surrey now plans to run all its forthcoming sales online while London coins and medal specialist auction house Dix Noonan Webb is planning to host more rather than fewer auctions throughout this period. The firm (the majority of staff are now working remotely) anticipate that many collectors will have more time to spend on their hobbies in the coming months.

“We hope that our increased sales calendar will provide a welcome source of distraction, enjoyment and even some normality in the weeks that lie ahead,” said Pierce Noonan. A plan to coordinate ‘regional drop-off points’ for buyers and sellers operating in line with social distancing requirements is under review.

While the movement and storage of large items is presenting challenges – some buyers and vendors scrambled to get their lots out in the days immediately before and after the lockdown began – auction houses conducting live online sales will typically offer storage free of charge for paid-for lots for as long as is required.

Art market shippers Gander & White, Hedley’s Humpers, Bradley’s and Simon Hall are now temporarily closed or are closing until the situation improves.

Other top-tier UK ‘regional’ auction firms pledging to continue selling online in the current crisis are Chiswick Auction Rooms and Fellows of Birmingham. Fellows’ managing director and auctioneer Stephen Whittaker conducted a jewellery sale from his own home last week (see ATG's Fellows story).

Firms that have put sales on hold were anxious to maintain contact with their client bases, offering remote valuations via email and Whatsapp.

Sworders, which has postponed five upcoming sales and cancelled two others, was among the salerooms telling clients that pay-outs for recent auctions will be made as usual and was directing buyers to the relevant page on its website to pay for lots purchased.

Other salerooms have promised vendors will be paid on reopening. Adam Partridge and car and automobilia specialist H&H were among the auction houses to issue statements last week that included notes referring to their ring-fenced client accounts to protect customer funds.

In a week of fast-moving events, developments included:

  • Reports have emerged that at least 25 dealers and visitors to TEFAF Maastricht have tested positive for the coronavirus, including some now in intensive care. The event closed early on March 11 after an Italian dealer tested positive.
  • Sales that were moved from Hong Kong to New York due to the coronavirus outbreak have now been moved back to Hong Kong. These included Sotheby’s series of Modern and Contemporary art auctions and Chinese Works of Art sales which are now all rescheduled for the week of July 5.
  • Thousands of self-employed art market professionals can claim a taxable grant of 80% of their average profits (from the last three years) up to £2500 a month after an emergency support package was announced by the UK government.
  • Existing sellers on ebay.co.uk will be given a 30-day payment holiday on all charges, with a commitment to consider a further holiday at the end of Apri l. New businesses registering on the site will not have to pay fees until May 31.
  • The 2020 edition of Art Basel, one of the world’s flagship fairs for Contemporary art , scheduled for June, has been postponed until September.

ATG’s list of changes to auctions and fairs dates is being regularly updated online as we receive information. See atg.news/3baS2Nv