Despite a recent announcement by Phillips, one of the world's larger auction houses, that it will introduce a 10 percent buyer's premium at its New York sales March 1, Washington auctioneers are holding fast.
"We have no plans to institute any buyer's premium," said Donald Webster, co-owner of C.G. Sloan & Company Inc. "Unless competition forces us to do so. We don't anticipate that it will."
At Adam A. Weschler & Son, William Weschler said, "If consignments start to diminish we might be forced to do it. [But] in Washington it's going to be kind of hard to train the people to pay this 10 percent."
Buyer's premiums and seller's commissions have been the norm in European cities for years. They are just starting to hit the American scene. The Phillips move, which "falls in line with other leading American auction houses and their own European galleries," the announcement said, comes right on the heels of Sotheby Parke Bernet's decision to adopt a "10-10" system, or 10 percent buyer's premium alongside a 10 percent seller's commission, which took effect in January.
The so-called seller's commission is used as a sweetener, a reduction in the usual 20 percent or so the auctioneer charges the seller to market his goods. The buyer's premium -- 10 percent cacked onto the sale price of an item -- compensates for this allowance.
Auctioneers such as Webster are not happy with the system and say it may not work as it is intended to. "This innovation is not becoming in this country," he said. "If sellers can do this, why should it just be at auctions? Why shouldn't real estate agents do it?"
Webster believes buyers will deliberately underbid to avoid the premium.
Auction house spokesmen say adoption of the system is spurred by intense competition and that it is needed to encourage sellers to put their goods on the block.
"Auction houses can get away with this kind of levy on the public [meaning the buyer's premium] only so long as it's a seller's market," Webster said.
The market appears to be still firmly in the hands of the sellers. In its announcement, Phillips also reported record sales for international operations in 1978. Sales totalled more than $54 million, a 19 percent increase over 1977.
A January 27 Sotheby auction broke records with $1.3 million in sales, double the pre-sale estimates. A weathervane sold for $25,000, painted oak and pine furniture for $20,000 and a Canada Goose decoy for $12,500.
LECTURES, TOURS AND THINGS
... Jack and Carolyn Reeder, coauthors of "Shenandoah Heritage: The Story of the People Before the Park," lead off a series of free lunch lectures at the George Washington Bicentennial Center in Alexandria Friday. The Reeders will talk about Virginia mountain people who lived in the park area before 1930, their lifestyles and their craftwork (750-6677).
... Steven Kent Peterson, assistant professor at Columbia University, discusses "Space and Anti-Space" in the next of Catholic U's architecture and urbanism symposium lectures. Wednesday at 6:30 (635-5188).
... More such... Moshe Safdie, planner of the city of Jerusalem, is next speaker in the Smithsonian Associate's series on "Assessing the City," tomorrow at 8.
... Also from the Associates... Kenneth M. Wilson, director of collections at the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, continues the "Artistry of Glass" series with a talk on 19th-century glass -- "The Industrial Revolution and its Consequences." Thursday at 8.
... Tomorrow night at 8, Richard M. Barnhart, author and professor of Chinese art at Princeton University, discusses pictures and poems in southern Sung landscape painting, 11th to 13th centuries, as part of "Ancient Arts of China."
Tickets for Smithsonian lectures can usually be purchased at the door (381-5157).
... A retrospective of works by Eleanor Sienkiewicz -- quilts and other fiber things -- begins at Glen Echo Park this Friday and continues through April 2 (492-6240).
... A documentary exhibition of about 30 panels at the Pension Building, put together by the Netherlands Ministry of Culture, depicts "De Stijl" design. "De Stijl," which enjoyed its heyday in the Netherlands between the two world wars, heavily influenced the "modern" style. The exhibit is open 9-5, through March 16, at 15th and G streets NW.
...The flower and garden show sponsored by the Professional Grounds Management Society, D.C. branch, opens Friday and continues through March 7 at the Armory. The Smithsonian, the National Arboretum and the U.S. Botanic Gardens, as well as several landscape contractors, show garden exhibits. There is also a garden marketplace, with much of what is new in plants and garden equipment.
During the show, local garden authorities will lead amateurs through a variety of seminars and demonstrations -- from the art of Bonsai to caring for houseplants to landscape design.
General admission is $4, or $3 for seniors and $1.50 for kids. Hours are 10:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. daily, except March 2 when the show opens at 1 and March 7 when the show closes at 8. The Armory is accessible by Metro. Call 384-2404 for more info.
FOR YOUR INFORMATION
... Application deadline is this Thursday for a three-week course in needlework conservation and restoration in England, sponsored, in part, by the Royal Oak Foundation in New York. Four students will be chosen to spend, first, five days in London, then two weeks in Knole, Sevenoaks, Kent, studying fabrics and textiles.
The course runs June 19 to July 6. Joan Edwards, former panel lecturer in embroidery at the Victoria and Albert Museum, will tutor the London program. Philippa Lawrence, who heads up a team of 140 needlewomen and men who maintain a collection of 16th- and 17th-century bed-hangings, curtains, rugs and tapestries at Knole, conducts the remaining two weeks of study.
Fee for the course is $700. Call 212/861-0529 for more info.
... Bookbinding specialist Anthony Hobson tells about the ways and means of putting books back together again, March 5 at 5 p.m., in the Wilson Room of the Library of Congress. Call 426-5221 for an invitation.
... The Virginia History Museum Federation sponsors a workshop in museum education at Gunston Hall Plantation in Lorton, Va., this coming Saturday. Cost is $7 (804/296-3376).
... Myra Selvadurai, an artist-inresidence at the Rollins Art Center in District Heights, Md., shows some of her batik wall hangings and how she makes them at the Oxon Hill Library, Saturday, from 1-4:30 (735-7300).
THOSE OLD COLLECTIBLES
... The 12th annual antiques show at Holy Redeemer Auditorium in Kensington, Md., begins Friday and runs through Sunday. More than 30 dealers will be on hand. Hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, 1-6 on Sunday. Holy Redeemer is at Saul Road & Summit Ave.
... Sotheby Parke Bernet auctions property from the estate collection of interior designer Eleanor Brown at its offices in New York Saturday. Furnishings and decorative pieces come from Brown's Southampton estate "Four Fountains." These include French opaline glass and European faience porcelain, a Louis XVI mahogany commode, Italian neoclassic gilt tables and an Empire mahogany bureau.
Exhibition began yesterday and continues through Friday (212/628-1200).
If you have an item for ETC., please send it along with any black and white photographs to: ETC., The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington D.C. 20071 . CAPTION: Illustration, Some of the country's leading auction houses are introducing "buyer's premiums" and "seller's commissions," which they say are necessary to cope with ever-escalating prices. This 19th century copper weathervane of the Indian Mashamoquet recently sold for $25,000 at Sotheby's.