Sotheby's, no less, has stepped into the breach to offer a special deal to names with something worth selling. The scheme is the personal initiative of Tim Llewellyn, Sotheby's large and rather jolly deputy chairman. Sitting in his splendidly adorned office in New Bond Street last week, it was hard to imagine that out there people of a certain ilk - Sotheby's clients, heaven forbid - are suffering. But they are.
'I'm not a name myself,' said Llewellyn, hastily. 'I've no pretensions in that respect, but I'm well aware of people who are facing difficulties.'
If you're a name and need to raise cash to meet your syndicate's losses (Llewellyn knows of one unfortunate soul who has to find pounds 1m) Sotheby's will come round and value your art collection, no strings attached.
Not only that, says Llewellyn. The firm's valuers will advise you what they would do if they were in your shoes.
So, he suggests, let's imagine for a second that you have to find pounds 120,000 and you have a treasured Gainsborough worth pounds 120,000. The easiest solution would be to sell it, but you may also have some silver that is also worth pounds 120,000. 'It is seldom used and currently stored in the bank. (Part of Llewellyn's charm is that he speaks with such authority that it is easy to imagine the dilemma of deciding between the Gainsborough or the silver.) Silver is selling well at the moment, so it would make more sense to send it and not the Gainsborough for auction.'
If you do decide to sell, Sotheby's will offer a 40 per cent reduction on its normal 10- 15 per cent commission. And if you want a loan to tide you over, Sotheby's can arrange that as well. Sadly, you must go through the demeaning business of depositing your valuables with Sotheby's for surety, although if you're truly heartbroken and prepared to pay a bit more to keep them, Llewellyn can come to some arrangement.
He hopes to have a more positive response than he did when Sotheby's first tried to help the names, a year ago. Then, the auction house wrote to its 1,200 clients whom it knew to be names, pointing out forthcoming sales. The mail- shot was not well-received. 'People are very sensitive,' said Llewellyn. 'They didn't like to think we were tracking their every move in life.'
Now, he maintains, things are better - and worse. The scheme is open to all names, but 'they have suffered yet another year of bad results'.
Time to sell the family silver.
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