Spink is sold to Christies: Art market fears potential conflicts of interest following purchase of auction house

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SPINK, the 300-year-old auctioneer, yesterday went under the hammer for pounds 16.5m, sending a frisson of concern through London's art market.

The buyer is a much younger upstart, Christies International, the big fine art auctioneer that was set up more than 100 years after Spink started trading from the West End of London in 1666.

The firm, acquired from Andrew Weir, the shipping and insurance group, is Britain's leading auctioneer and dealer in coins, medals and Oriental works of art. It also designs and commissions commemorative and campaign medals and coins.

Christies said the purchase would enable it to expand its services into new areas of the art market, particularly South East Asia and South America. The company plans to merge its existing coins and medals department with Spink's, which will retain its name and continue to operate independently within the group.

However, the deal has sparked concern in the art market about potential conflicts of interest.

One prominent dealer said: 'This won't earn them any friends in the trade.'

Giuseppe Eskenazi, the leading Oriental art dealer, said: 'I cannot believe an auction-house is going into the retail business. There is a conflict of interests. Will they buy to sell? . . . What happens with the objects they can't sell at auction?'

However, the group said it would set up a compliance committee to maintain the proper separation and identity of Christie Manson & Wood, its existing auction house, and Spink.

Last year Spink made a pounds 700,000 trading loss on turnover of almost pounds 21m. Net assets amounted to pounds 7.6m, after allowing for bank debt of pounds 3.8m.

Under the terms of the deal, Christies is paying pounds 7.1m in cash. The vendor will receive an additional pounds 1.7m payment 'as and when the benefits of Spink's accumulated tax losses and certain other assets are realised'.

In addition, Andrew Weir will receive a maximum pounds 7.7m proceeds from the sale of Spink's stocks.

Christies will also inherit Spink's main premises in King Street, London, boosting its presence in the St James area, the heart of the capital's art market.

Lord Carrington, chairman of Christies, said: 'Spink is a fine business with a long history of service to collectors in the art market. With its traditions of integrity and high standards we believe the company can be developed very successfully in the year ahead.'

(Photograph omitted)