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Tuesday 2 June 2020

Auctions in the Time of Coronavirus

As regular readers of this Blog will know, I sometimes do work as a describer for the Wiesbaden auction house of Heinrich Koehler. So I was pleased when I learnt that their next auction will go ahead on 23 - 27 June with viewing and room bidding. But I was curious to know how it would be different after coronavirus and I asked Tobias Huylmans, one of the two Koehler managing directors, to explain it to me. In response, he sent me a nine page document setting out all the new arrangements Koehler will have in place. 

These arrangements had been agreed with the local health authority and the document he sent me has already been distributed to all the staff at Koehler so that they fully understand what is required later this month.

As you might expect, the new arrangements are based on both legal requirements and models of good practice which have developed in the past few months. I will summarise them here using the Koehler in-house document and add a few comments.

First, the total number of people inside the Koehler offices will be controlled at all times, with an Entry, Exit, and Pass system. Basically, anyone who wants to view or bid in person will need to make a prior appointment and be issued a Pass on arrival. Anyone who arrives early for their appointment may have to wait outside in the kind of regulated queue we are all now familiar with from supermarkets. Exit will be through a different door from Entrance.

Second, once inside everything that can be done to ensure distancing will be done. Viewing places and auction seats will be arranged to ensure the minimum 1.5m distance required by German law.

Third, as an additional layer of protection, Koehler will install plexiglass screens to separate staff from clients, and clients from clients, at appropriate points.

Fourth, use of personal protection will be expected of everyone. So expect to wear a mask and expect to use hand sanitiser (Koehler will supply both but won’t object if you have them in your pocket already!). Koehler will also be using enhanced cleaning of their premises and disinfecting viewing tables between clients.

Fifth, as a backstop which it is hoped will not be used, if you appear to be unwell you may be asked to leave.

In short, it’s a thorough plan and it’s been approved. I am sure other auction houses will be developing similar arrangements and in time I suspect we will all get used to them. Part of the challenge for Koehler is that they are going to be one of the first to hold an auction under these conditions. Inevitably, some will grumble a bit. Other will be pleased that a serious company takes the health of its staff and its clients seriously.