Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Textile Museum Announces Director’s Resignation

The Textile Museum Announces Director’s Resignation
March 25, 2009, Washington, D.C. — The Textile Museum announced today that Director Daniel
Walker has resigned, effective March 23, 2009. Walker has served as director since May 2005.

In his letter of resignation to the Board of Trustees, Walker wrote, “Given the economic climate, this is a difficult time for museums large and small. Therefore, the Board and I have come to a mutual agreement that this is the right moment for me to assist in the transition to a new director. I am eager to return to various research, writing and exhibition projects that have been set aside over the last four years. My devotion to The Textile Museum and its collection is unwavering, and I look forward to providing advice and assistance to the Museum beyond the official conclusion of my tenure.”

Walker’s letter of resignation was reluctantly accepted by Board President Bruce P. Baganz. In response, Baganz said, “The Textile Museum’s Board of Trustees is grateful for Daniel Walker’s leadership over the past four years. His extensive museum experience and thorough knowledge of textiles has helped to reinforce the Museum’s reputation as a world leader in the study and presentation of the textile arts.”

During Walker’s tenure, The Textile Museum presented 16 diverse and highly acclaimed exhibitions, including three curated by the director himself: Seldom Seen: Director’s Choice from the Museum’s Collections (February 10 – July 30, 2006), Pieces of a Puzzle: Classical Persian Carpet Fragments (September 1, 2006 – January 7, 2007), and Recent Acquisitions (March 6, 2009 – January 3, 2010).

Baganz commented, “We anticipate an exciting schedule of diverse exhibitions in the years ahead which will bear Daniel Walker’s artistic mark, including this spring’s Constructed Color: Amish Quilts and the upcoming exhibitions, Contemporary Japanese Fashion: The Mary Baskett Collection, Designing Women of Postwar Britain, and Colors of the Oasis: Central Asian Ikats.”

“On behalf of the entire Museum community, we wish Dan all the best in his future endeavors and look forward to an ongoing friendship,” Baganz said.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Danny Shaffer Slams Sotheby's Auction in the

The art market: High hopes floored by a carpet

By Georgina Adam
Published: March 28 2009 01:07 | Last updated: March 28 2009 01:07

Pearl carpet of BarodaThere has been much coverage of the $5.5m paid for the lavish “Pearl carpet of Baroda” (pictured right) which Sotheby’s sold on March 19 in its new Doha, Qatar location. Predictions were that it could make $20m (£13.6m), but in the event it only just made its $5m estimate. What is more, specialists contest Sotheby’s claims that it sets a new world record for a carpet. “It is no more a carpet than is the glass mosaic Kazak rug that embellishes the grave of the ballet dancer Rudolph Nureyev, outside Paris,” says Danny Shaffer of the specialist antique rugs magazine Hali.
Carpets are generally defined as woven textiles that you can walk on without damaging them or your feet: the elaborate 19th-century Baroda piece (originally from the family of the Maharaja of Baroda, possibly commissioned for the tomb of the Prophet in Medina) has millions of seed pearls, semi-precious stones and coloured glass beads; Shaffer describes it as “costume jewellery gone mad”.
Sotheby’s said it had never appeared at auction before, which was true, but it has been knocking around the trade for decades, and was reportedly offered at an art fair for $1m about 15 years ago.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Prophet was Pearl Carpet's saviour

Prophet was Pearl Carpet's saviour

Devanshi Joshi
Friday, March 20, 2009 12:32 IST
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Vadodara: The world's costliest rug, the Pearl Carpet, commissioned by the erstwhile Maharaja of Baroda, Khander Rao Gaekwad, was expected to fetch more than $5 million at an auction in Doha, on Thursday.

In an exclusive interview with DNA, Jeetendra Singh Gaekwad, the great grandnephew of Maharaja Sayaji Rao Gaekwad who was adopted by the Gaekwad family, gave an account of the carpet's intriguing history.

Khander Rao had apparently intended to offer the carpet at Prophet Mohammed's mausoleum in Medina. Even in the princely era, artefacts such as the Pearl Carpet were considered to be investments. Jeetendra Singh said that Khander Rao's decision to make an offering of the carpet was governed by his desire to prevent it from being stolen during wars. Singh said that even in the chaos of conflict, nobody dared to touch anything that had any religious significance.

"Khander Rao was fond of grand architecture," Singh said. "He also had a keen interest in the arts and in high culture. The Pearl Carpet of Baroda exemplifies that passion."
Singh said that Khander Rao wanted Indian artisans to learn the craft that had been perfected by their Persian peers, as that would have opened profitable opportunities for them in India.

As for the Pearl Carpet, it flew between several owners before landing at Sotheby's. Sita Devi, who became the second wife of another maharaja of Baroda, late Sir Pratap Singh Gaekwad, took the carpet with her to southern Europe after her divorce from Sir Pratap. It is believed that after her death, the carpet first became the property of a Parsi man and then of an Arab sheikh. The carpet is said to have changed hands a few more times.

"After Independence, the government never tried keenly enough to bring the carpet home," Singh said. "Heavy import duties levied on such objects could have deterred those who wanted to restore the carpet to India."

Singh said that the current government should reclaim the carpet. "It should be displayed at the Baroda museum because it has an emotional value for the city," he said.
According to sources apprised of the royal family's affairs, Mumbai-based Sangram Singh Gaekwad, the grandson of maharaja Sayaji Rao Gaekwad, was keen to get the carpet back to the country. But apparently his enthusiasm was not shared by other royals.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Carpet Exhibition Opens In Northern Afghanistan

Carpet Exhibition Opens In Northern Afghanistan

Women weaving carpets in Afghanistan
March 20, 2009
MAZAR-E SHARIF, Afghanistan (RFERL) -- An international carpet exhibition has opened in Afghanistan's northern Balkh Province, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan (RFA) reports.

The exhibition, held in the provincial capital Mazar-e Sharif, is financed by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and its goal is to promote Afghan carpets on the world market.

Afghanistan's northern regions are well known for their ancient tradition of carpet making. Among the carpets on show at the two-day exhibition are some designs that have won international prizes in previous years.

Noria Azizi, the head of a women's business association, told RFA that the United States is a major market for Afghan carpets.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Pearl Carpet of Baroda Sells for Record $5.5 Million

Pearl Carpet of Baroda Sells for Record $5.5 Million
By Scott Reyburn

March 19 (Bloomberg) -- An Indian carpet made of pearls and gems today fetched a record $5.5 million at the first series of auctions held by Sotheby’s in the Gulf state of Qatar.
The 5-foot-8-inch by 8-foot-8-inch Pearl Carpet of Baroda had been commissioned in 1865 by the Maharajah of the former Indian state of Baroda, possibly as a gift for the tomb of the prophet Mohammed at Medina, said Sotheby’s.
The carpet, with more than 1 million natural Basra seed pearls, had never been offered before at auction and was expected to fetch at least $5 million, said Sotheby’s. The sale price included fees. The New York-based auction house would not reveal the identity or nationality of the seller in Doha and said it was sold to an anonymous telephone buyer.
Its price beat the previous highest amount paid for a carpet or rug: $4.5 million in June, 2008 at Christie’s International, New York, for a 17th-century Persian silk Isfahan rug that had belonged to the U.S. collector Doris Duke.

During the Qatar sale, an early-17th century Persian velvet panel, showing elegantly-dressed women walking in a garden, sold for $3.4 million, 10 times the upper estimate. The recently- discovered Safavid court textile measured 3-foot-3-inches-wide. It had been in a European private collection for nearly a century and would now be returning to another, said Sotheby’s.
In October 2008, Sotheby’s announced that it would be holding a “major international series of auctions” in Doha in early 2009. The following month, the oil-rich Gulf state opened a new Museum of Islamic Art, designed by I.M. Pei.
Inaugural Sale

Sellers entered just 18 lots -- plus the carpet, which had its own catalog -- into Sotheby’s inaugural Arts of the Islamic World auction. Only five of the 18 managed to sell. They totaled $4 million with fees. The estimate was $4 million at hammer prices.
Islamic works of art are one of many auction markets that have been affected by the economic slump. Last year, Sotheby’s April 9 Islamic art sale in London fetched a record 21.5 million pounds ($31.1 million). Six months later, on Oct. 8, following the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. and as crude oil fell to its lowest in 10 months, the equivalent Islamic sale at Sotheby’s took 9.3 million pounds.

Yesterday evening, Sotheby’s first auction of international, Arab and Iranian contemporary art in Doha took $4.3 million. This was less than half of the presale estimate of $13.8 million to $19.7 million. Fifty-five percent of the 51 offered lots sold. The top price was the low estimate $974,500 paid for a purple-colored Anish Kapoor stainless-steel mirror sculpture, dated 2003.
“While the contemporary art market is thriving at adjusted levels as we saw in our sales of contemporary art in London in February, tonight’s sale was not supported by the international market place to the extent we had hoped,” Cheyenne Westphal, Sotheby’s chairman of contemporary art for Europe, said in an e-mailed statement after the auction.
(Scott Reyburn writes about the art market for Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)
To contact the writer on the story: Scott Reyburn in London at
Last Updated: March 19, 2009 17:22 EDT

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Gem of a carpet is set to break world record

Pearl Carpet of Baroda

Gem of a carpet is set to break world record

A HISTORIC carpet containing Bahraini pearls is set to break records when it goes to auction with a starting bid of $5 million (BD1.89m) in Qatar on Thursday. The Pearl Carpet of Baroda will form the centrepiece of Sotheby's inaugural series of sales in Doha and will be sold alongside other objects in the Arts of the Islamic World auction.
It will set a record if it sells at the price, beating the $4.45m (BD1.68m) paid for a silk Persian rug in New York, at Christie's last year.
However, it is expected to fetch up to $20m (BD7.5m) when it goes under the hammer, according to auctioneers.
It is embroidered with one and a half million Basra pearls, which were harvested in the southern Gulf region and along the coasts of Bahrain and Qatar, says Sotheby's.
It is also embellished with diamonds, sapphires, emeralds and rubies.
"Named after its patron, it was commissioned circa 1865 by Gaekwar Khande Rao, the Maharaja of Baroda; reputedly originally intended as a gift for the tomb of (Prophet) Mohammed at Medina," it said.
The intended gift was never delivered as the maharaja died before he made the donation and the carpet remained in his family.
"It is fitting that a historic object as magnificent and unique as the Pearl Carpet of Baroda is a major highlight of our inaugural series of auctions in Doha," said Sotheby's rugs and carpets worldwide director Mary Jo Otsea.
"The carpet has never appeared at auction before and the sale therefore represents an unparalleled opportunity to acquire an extraordinarily significant work of art. I am delighted that Middle Eastern collectors will be able to view this stunning work."
Exhibited in 1902 as a highlight of the Delhi Exhibition displaying the wealth of the maharajas, it was later moved to Monaco with Maharani Sita Devi, who took the carpet along with her jewellery collection when she moved to the Mediterranean.
For the first time in over 80 years, the carpet was once again showcased in the 1985 landmark exhibition India at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Moldovan carpetmaker Elena Spinei

A Lonely Carpet Maker Weaves Masterpieces And Dreams Of Better Days

Moldovan carpetmaker Elena Spinei was taught to weave by her mother. She, in turn, has taught her three nieces the art.

March 14, 2009
By Elena Moldoveanu
CHISINAU -- Far from the hustle and bustle of urban life, Elena Spinei sings in her home in the Moldovan village of Badiceni.

"One evening in Constanta, which I will never forget..."

She sings to relieve her solitude. And as she sings, she weaves.

She is weaving a carpet, and the loom takes up most of the room in which she lives during the winter.

One of her finished carpets is hanging on the wall above her bed. It is a colorful carpet, filled with roses that have deep red and pink colors and are scattered in bouquets over a cream background. The effect is cheery and dignified, and filled with the strength that comes from generations of tradition.

Carpet making has a long history here. By ancient custom, a bride had to include carpets that she had made by her own hand as part of her dowry. They were a measure of a girl's industriousness, her dexterity, and her artistic abilities.

The carpet would go into the "casa mare," the "big house" of a clan's compound. The clan's families had their own sleeping quarters nearby but every evening came together in this place. With its walls hung with the portraits of grandparents, parents, and children and decorated with the embroidery of successive generations, the big house was a memorial to the clan itself.

"I learned to weave from my mother," Spinei says. "You should be careful not to make mistakes, because it is very difficult to do."

Weaving Parties

Decades ago, her carpet weaving was not so solitary. The villagers organized parties where all the young girls and housewives sang songs and wove together. The group efforts were a major economic activity that helped to bring Badiceni, and hundreds of similar small villages, more than just what the fields produce.

"A feeling of freshness" -- that's how one carpet producer described Moldovan carpets, such as this one by Elena Spinei.
"My father went to Nikolaev, Ukraine, and exchanged carpets for corn, wool, and clothes," Spinei remembers. "But in the 1970s, the tradition got lost because people went to work in collective farms."

Collectivization took a long time to reach this remote region squeezed between Ukraine and Romania. The area was annexed into the Soviet Union at the end of World War II.

Soviet ruler Josef Stalin sliced off parts and attached them to Ukraine. The rest became the Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic. Moscow heavily industrialized the new republic's region east of Dniestr River and encouraged Ukrainians and Russians to come work in its factories.

The market for private goods disappeared.

"At the beginning of the '70s there was an orchard in the collective farm and people went to work," Spinei says. "The villagers had no time to weave. Many of them gave up on weaving. Just some of them were weaving but now they had nowhere to sell them, so they wove them for themselves."

Migration Of Labor

Today, Moldova is independent and has a free market. But the economic situation is worse than before.

That is because of what happened on the day Moldova was granted membership in the United Nations in 1992. The region east of the Dniestr River began a war of secession.

After four months of fighting, the Transdniestr forces, boosted by Russian arms and Cossacks, carved out their own self-rule entity whose flag still bears the Soviet hammer and sickle. The riverside factories were no longer under Moldova's control and with them went the country's hopes for an industrial economy. The great out migration of labor began.

The humble home of carpetmaker Elena Spinei
Spinei says she tried to pass on her weaving skills to the next generation. But who needs what can't sell?

"I have three nieces," Spinei says. "I taught all of them to weave, but I doubt if anyone weaves among my relatives."

She says she has periodically tried to find a market for her weavings, but without success.

She has exhibited some of her carpets in a few exhibitions that local craftsmen have organized in the district center.

And she donated one of the rugs she wove when she was young to a local museum. That was in hopes that passing tourists might appreciate her work.

No Demand For Handicrafts

But few tourists come. And in Moldova, there is almost no demand for handicrafts that take months to make. It is cheaper to buy the simple machine-made rugs that come in from China in search of the money your relatives send from the West.

Foreigners who do go to Moldova sometimes say it seems to be peopled only by children, old women, and policemen, like a country at war. The able-bodied are far away, fighting to make ends meet.

It is an irony of fate that Spinei is so isolated from the rest of the world. Because, in fact, there is a rich market for her weavings, if only she could connect with it.

Moldovan suitcase traders occasionally bring Moldovan carpets to Istanbul to sell. They go straight to the Grand Bazaar where the carpet sellers are. There, they unroll the rugs before the dealers, who pretend they have no interest but buy them anyway -- as if from charity.

It is easy to feign boredom when the suitcases open. The bazaar is full of rugs from every corner of the east, from colorful Turkish kilims for tourists, to luxurious Persian carpets for rich businessmen, to antique Turkmen weavings that only collectors can afford. Offering a simple Moldovan is like bringing a faded rose into a flower shop.

Still, the carpet merchants know the Moldovans have value. So, they forward them to Western Europe.

Attracting Interest In Germany

Some old Moldovan weavings recently came up for sale in Germany. An Istanbul dealer had brought a small stack of them to Domotex, the carpet world's largest trade show, which takes place every January in Hanover.

The fair is where hundreds of carpet producers from Turkey, Iran, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and China meet with the thousands of wholesalers who supply Europe's retail carpet shops. The hand-woven carpets fill five hangar-sized halls, creating a giant souk where millions of euros change hands in four days.

Spinei, surrounded by her handiwork
The richest merchants sit in glass enclosures. Others simply sit among the knee-high and thigh-high piles of rugs. Everywhere, hired muscle men flip back carpets as buyers look with on with calculators.

The Moldovan carpets are stacked up at one corner of the stand of the Turkish company Ozmelek Hali. They already have attracted the interest of a trio of buyers from Norway.

The Norwegians have a small catalogue company called Home and Cottage, south of Oslo. The company specializes in supplying the kind of rough, unvarnished furniture that looks like it has been stored in the family attic for generations.

One of the trio, Kaj Roger, says the Moldovan carpets fit well with Norwegian cottage decors.

"We have a lot of cottages in Norway and at the cottage it should be 'old style,' " Roger says. "It's a place to relax."

Does he mean the Moldovan carpets somehow represent the good old days, a grandmother's weavings, memories of lifetimes past?

The three Norwegians, who are entering middle age, do not object to any of these suggestions. Norway itself has lost so much of its traditional life that such furnishings have to come from elsewhere.

The longing of overworked, overstressed Western Europeans for simpler times represents an obvious market for Spinei, who has too much time on her hands. But the commercial isolation of Moldova makes it difficult for their two worlds too meet.

'Feeling Of Freshness'

Instead, the opportunities already are passing on to others. Not far from Ozmelek Hali, there is another small collection of Moldovan carpets hanging from the wall of the stand of an Indian carpet producer, Manglam Arts.

It's a feeling of freshness, you know, that always makes you think about a garden and flowers.
The company's owner, R.K. Rawat of Jaipur, says he first saw a Moldovan carpet five years ago and was immediately attracted by them. Now he produces about 50 a month.

"It's a feeling of freshness, you know, that always makes you think about a garden and flowers," Rawat says.

Rawat says getting Indian weavers to reproduce Moldovans was not easy.

"I found one particular village that was interested, and the weavers were very flexible, but it still took a few years because they had just some photos to work from," he says. "They didn't have the original piece in their hands."

Now, the Indian-woven Moldovans are on their way to filling a market niche that, in today's globalized world, belongs to whoever recognizes and satisfies it fastest.

Rawat says he plans to increase production in the months ahead to build on the success his carpets are already enjoying with buyers at this trade show and others.

And Spinei, who just hopes for better times, keeps weaving alone.

RFE/RL correspondents Charles Recknagel and Eugen Tomiuc contributed to this article from Prague.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Avoid "Short Notice Auctions"

For years I have cautioned about "Short Notice Auctions" and this article demonstrates why. When you see an ad about an auction held in a ballroom or convention center watch out. If it suggests a link to the "FEDERAL" Government watch out. If it suggests that the rugs were seized by Customs, Watch Out.
MONTREAL - Ross Palumbo thought he knew a deal when he saw one.
He spotted a newspaper ad for an auction of "seized cargo, unclaimed abandoned jewelry and watches, estate Persian rugs" at Montreal's Dorval Hilton, and decided to go have a look.
A men's Rolex watch came up for bid. The Oyster Perpetual Datejust was a beauty with 10 diamonds embedded in its dial and a gleaming steel and gold bracelet. Palumbo was delighted to win the watch with a bid of $4,500, far less than the written appraised retail value of $12,000 provided by the auction house.
His delight was short-lived.
Palumbo sent the watch to Rolex Canada for an independent appraisal for insurance purposes. Two weeks later, he got a letter from the service department with bad news; his timepiece was a mutt requiring more than $5,000 in parts and repairs.
"After careful examination, we noted that the watch has been modified in many areas: non-Rolex diamond dial, non-Rolex bracelet and converted bezel and crystal ... these conversions do not meet Rolex technical requirements. We regret that we cannot carry out normal service unless the watch is returned to its original design."
The auction business is a largely unregulated frontier in Canada, with rules that vary from province to province. Some jurisdictions, like Saskatchewan and Alberta, require auction companies to register, buy a licence and post a $25,000 bond before conducting business. That bond can be used to settle claims by dissatisfied consumers.
In contrast, anyone can call him or herself an auctioneer in Quebec. There is no licence or bond requirement. This lack of consistent regulation means there is little to deter unscrupulous auctioneers from plying their trade across the country and little recourse for consumers who feel victimized.
Two travelling auction houses, Heritage Auctioneers and Federal Auction Service, are not related, but both employ advertising and sales tactics that have put them at odds with regulators across the country and resulted in consumer complaints. One of Federal Auction Service's auctioneers is Salim Khan, whose siblings Anwar and Azam Khan have been sanctioned repeatedly by U.S. regulators for publishing misleading auction ads and misrepresenting the provenance of goods they have offered at auction through various companies in the U.S.
Salim Khan is quick to distance himself from his siblings, saying he has not worked with them for several years. He told the Montreal Gazette in a fax: "Although members of the Federal Auction Service team are part of the Khan family, they wish to state publicly that they do not have any manner of business relationship with Azam and Anwar Khan or companies under their ownership."
On Jan. 1, a Montreal woman and her boyfriend attended an auction held by Heritage Auctioneers in a chilly warehouse near Montreal's Trudeau airport. She bought two ladies' diamond rings for $450 and $800, plus a 15 per cent buyer's premium paid directly to the auction house and PST and GST. The rings came with appraisal certificates that stated their retail value was $2,100 and $4,000, respectively.
An independent appraiser consulted by the Montreal Gazette disputed the stated carat weight of the diamonds. Based on the size and quality of the stones, gold content and labour involved in their making, she estimated the rings' retail value at $900 and $1,100 each.
In the industry, retail value is calculated by adding the value of materials and labour and multiplying by a 250 per cent markup. With the rings, the auction house appeared to inflate the price by 500 per cent.
"You didn't overpay, but you didn't get what you thought you bought,' said Colleen Whitthoeft, an appraiser with more than 20 years of industry experience.
She neither buys nor sells jewelry but grades stones for the diamond trade. She also does consumer appraisals for insurance and estate purposes.
Another Montrealer paid nearly $30,000 for three rugs, two pairs of earrings and a gold bracelet at a Heritage auction at a downtown Montreal hotel. The merchandise came with appraisal certificates pegging the value of the merchandise at more than $266,000.
An independent appraiser later told the buyer his carpets were low-grade and worth "pennies on the dollar," the buyer said. The jewelry was also worth less than the auction house claimed, according to a jewelry appraiser engaged by the buyer.
All three consumers were drawn to the auctions after reading newspaper advertisements placed by Heritage Auctioneers, whose company headquarters are in Richmond Hill, Ont.
The ads, featuring diamond jewelry and watches, promised "sheriff-seized jewelry" and "items previously seized by customs." All three went looking for bargains and say they ended up learning a hard lesson in "buyer beware."
Palumbo's lawyer sent a tersely worded letter to the auction house. Eventually he received most of his money back, minus a $450 "handling fee." The entire experience has soured him on auctions.
Heritage Auctioneers refused a Gazette interview request.
Heritage, which also uses the name Heritage International, Bloomsbury & Butterfield and Bloomsbury Auctioneers & Appraisers, is operated by 1656786 Ontario Inc. The company organizes auctions in hotel meeting rooms and banquet halls from Victoria to St. John's, N.L.
On Feb.18, the company hosted a sale at Calgary's Blackfoot Inn. Last Sunday it hosted an auction of "Canadian government certified N.W.T. certified Canadian diamonds," among other baubles, at the upscale Hilton Lac-Leamy in Gatineau, Que.
Recently, Federal Auction Service organized a sale at Montreal's Intercontinental Hotel featuring, among other items, a Mercedes-Benz SL65 and a Rolls-Royce Phantom, neither of which was actually on display.
In April 2004, former NDP MP Svend Robinson was caught on camera pocketing a diamond ring during a Federal Auction Service sale in Richmond, B.C. The auction company did not press charges.
In March 2005, the company paid a $25,000 penalty to the Competition Bureau after agreeing not to represent itself as having been retained, authorized or instructed to sell items on behalf of the federal government.
The bureau got involved after Federal Auction Service began publishing ads in 1999 that falsely asserted it was liquidating inventory seized by customs and or recovered from the proceeds of crime. Despite that brush with regulators, the company's website still has a link titled "government contracts," and at its recent Montreal sale the auctioneer assured the audience that Federal Auction Service "is contracted to the government of Canada."
Federal Auction Service asked that any questions about the company be submitted in writing by fax.
In August 2002, Alberta's Government Services Appeal Board cancelled the auction licence of a company called Federal Collection Service after finding it contravened the province's Fair Trading Act by repeatedly running auction ads that misled the public. Kashif Khan was identified as one of those responsible for placing newspaper ads on the company's behalf.
In October 2002, Kashif Khan was back in business operating under the name of Federal Auction Service (Alberta) Inc. A spokesman for Alberta's Ministry of Government Services said FAS employees Amir Durrani and Khan have been cautioned repeatedly in that province for misleading advertising about "seized goods." The pair are now director of auctions and assistant director of auctions for Federal Auction Service in Ontario.
The Ontario consumer protection office has had four written consumer complaints about Federal Auction Service and two other inquiries since 1999. Five complaints were about misrepresentation of merchandise and the sixth was about the company's failure to offer a refund, said Ciaran Ganley, a spokesman for Ontario's Ministry of Government Services.
Both Ontario's Better Business Bureau and Quebec's Consumer Protection Office have received complaints about Heritage Auctioneers. In Quebec, the office registered complaints in 2002 and 2005 from consumers who alleged that the company made false representations about either the value or provenance of the jewelry and carpets the company sold them. The office suggested both complainants contact lawyers, said department spokesman Jean-Jacques Preaux.
At the Federal Auction Service event in Montreal, the auctioneer was a master of smooth delivery, reassuring those in the audience that they could bid with confidence.
"Federal Auction Service gets the watches seized by Canada Customs, by tax recovery and by theft recovery," said Salim Khan before the bidding started. "You have to be careful that what you buy is authentic, ladies and gentlemen. Birks got caught and Rolex pulled their licence."
That provoked an indignant response from Birks.
"That is an outrageous statement," said Michelle Laberge, a spokesman for the jewelry chain. She explained that during the economic downturn of the mid-1990s, Rolex stopped supplying chain jewelry stores, including Birks. "The decision had to to with the number of bankruptcies in the industry, not with issues of fraud."
Birks & Mayors Inc., the jewelry chain's parent company, continues to sell Rolexes in its 28 Mayor's stores in the U.S., she added.
The Auctioneers Association of Canada has been monitoring the activities of certain itinerant auction houses since the 1980s and is frustrated by the lack of national governing standards.
"We're trying to promote a degree of professionalism in the industry, but with the different rules in every province it's hard to get anyone's ear," said Hudson auctioneer Gary Peterson, chairman and past president of the AAC.
Auctioneers belonging to the 270-member AAC must adhere to a code of ethics. Consumers who feel they have been wronged have a forum for complaint. The group mediates and, if necessary, will ask a three-member panel to rule on a dispute. Peterson has been on the losing end of panel decisions. He never likes it, but recognizes that without public confidence the auction business can't work.
Federal and Heritage are not members of the AAC.
The AAC would like to see rules put in place requiring auctioneers to be members of recognized industry group such as the AAC or its U.S. equivalent, the National Auctioneers Association.
In the end, healthy skepticism may be a consumer's best protection when attending an auction. The Montrealer who spent $29,894 on low-grade carpets and jewelry said he went to the Heritage auction with $300 in his pocket, planning to buy a piece of jewelry for his wife. He quickly got caught up in the excitement of the event.
"The merchandise looked real and they had documents for everything they sold me," said the man, who asked not to be identified because of his embarrassment.
He did not find it strange that two of the appraisal certificates were signed "James Goodenough," while the third was signed "Jim Mirkalami." Mirkalami is the director of Heritage Auctioneers.
Palumbo's doctored Rolex was supposed to come with documents certifying its authenticity as well as the watch's original box. Instead, he received a photocopied certificate and a generic gift box by mail weeks after the auction.
Heritage and Federal Auction Service share similar business practices that raise eyebrows in traditional auctioneering circles.
They include lightning-quick visits to different cities and an equally quick departure. Both companies allow a one-hour preview before the auction begins and require those attending to register with a piece of photo identification before being allowed to enter the auction room. In Montreal, Federal Auction required members of the public to leave a piece of ID at the registration desk.
Most controversial of all, both auction companies erect barriers in the centre of the hall so that participants on the left side cannot see the participants on the right side. At times, including the event at the Intercontinental, the auctioneer appeared to be accepting bids from empty chairs at the back of the hall. All three of the consumers interviewed by the Gazette said they were uncomfortable with the way the sightlines were blocked.
"The bid kept going up and up, but I couldn't see who was bidding against me," said the buyer of the oriental carpets. "I've been to many other auctions and never seen that."
At FAS's Intercontinental sale, barriers bearing "customer testimonials" were placed at the back and in the centre aisle. Participants who tried to stand at the back of the room were told to sit by auction staff. The auctioneer later defended the practice, saying blocking the centre aisle was a security measure to deter thieves.
"There is more than $20 million worth of jewelry in the room, so if you discuss our security arrangements I hope you are ready to accept liability for what might happen," Salim Khan said.
Montreal Gazette
MONTREAL - A company calling itself Citizens Union ran ads in the Montreal Gazette last fall for an auction of "ex-police confiscated valuables."
Another ad showed a palatial estate and promised a "valuable partial collection of spouse of Ex-Real Estate Developer/Builder. Goods previously acquired by auction house as a result of previous financial restructuring."
The company is one of several operated by brothers Anwar and Azam Khan, whose roving auctions have been sanctioned by regulators in several U.S. states for misleading the public about the origins or value of the items they auction.
Among the items listed were "etchings, lithographs and other mediums by and after Picasso, Chagall" among other noted artists. The auction also featured fine furniture, hand-knotted Persian and oriental carpets in silk and wool, as well as jewelry and watches.
The Khans are the brother of Salim Khan, Federal Auction Service's auctioneer.
One of Anwar and Azam Khan's preferred techniques is to rent for a weekend an exclusive estate that is up for sale and then stage an auction on the grounds, leading buyers to believe they are buying items from the estate.
Here is a roundup of some of the rulings against Anwar and Azam Khan.
- August 2004: Fidelity First Financial paid a $10,000 US fine in Massachusetts for falsely advertising multimillion-dollar estate sales and government-seized property. The attorney general found that many of the items advertised at its auction as valuable antiques were in fact cheap reproductions. The company admitted no wrongdoing.
- October 2004: Fidelity First Financial cancelled an auction in Sioux City, Iowa, after receiving a subpoena from the state attorney general ordering the company to prove the authenticity of works by Dali, Chagall and Manet advertised in an auction ad. The action came after the auctioneers advertised a "spectacular estate auction" to liquidate items belonging to "an internationally renowned Art and Antique Dealer," "due to divorce." The subpoena remains in effect.
- January 2002: The Auctioneers Board of Virginia fined Azam Khan $3,000 and suspended his auctioneering licence for one year after he was found to have run false, misleading or deceptive advertisements and failed to keep proper records.
- November 2001: Oregon's attorney general filed a permanent injunction against Fidelity First Financial for publishing ads that misled the public into thinking the goods being auctioned were connected to the sale of million-dollar homes. Fidelity First was ordered to submit all its ads to the Justice Department before publication for a period of four years. The company was fined $2,500.
- November 2000: Azam Khan was fined a $2,000 civil penalty in Pennsylvania for having disciplinary actions against him in two other states.
- April 2000: Azam Khan's auctioneer licence was suspended in Florida and he was fined $1,500.
Montreal Gazette