Auctionata is a traditional auction house which operates exclusively on the internet. They use technology to broadcast live auctions around the globe. It is one of the first enterprises to conduct traditional and authentic auctions online. The first company to use this type of technology was Lauritz in Denmark. The second, that springs to mind, was Auction Atrium, the London based company founded by CEO Allison Earl Woessner in 2006. Ms Woessner, a former US citizen, is now Auctionata’s UK Director.
Auction Atrium went into voluntary liquidation on 2 February 2012, as a result of cash flow problems at the time of Ms Woessner’s tenure as Chief Executive Officer. The company was wound up, owing clients and claimants in excess of £125,000. As it turned out, several clients and debtors were never paid for the sale of goods consigned to Auction Atrium, which included a valuable Chinese porcelain vase, sold for £45,000, in the online auction’s Autumn 2011, Oriental sale. Proceeds from other sales which consisted of family heirlooms, art and jewellery also went unpaid to the consignees.
There are many lessons to be learned from untested companies like Auction Atrium, which started off well but spiralled into an avoidable decline. One of the main questions raised was how an auction house registered with the prestigious Society of Fine Art Auctioneers, the professional body exclusively representing fine art auctioneers and valuers in the UK would allow a company like Auction Atrium with an inexperienced CEO like Ms Woessner to join. To be a member of SOFFA, it is understood that proceeds from auctions must be paid directly into a client escrow account. Fees and commissions are than deducted before the client is paid for the lot. In February 2012 Roland Arkell at the Antiques Trade Gazette reported; “Action Atrium staff were seemingly under the impression a client escrow account was in place, but managing director Allison Earl Woessner told ATG that the financial structure of the company had changed in July 2009, following new backing and the appointment of financial director Roy Anderson. It meant that vendors’ money could then be used as operational cash when deemed necessary”. This is not illegal, it is just a bit immoral.
The insolvency actions only raised a fraction of the money owed to the long list of debtors, while the accountancy firm James Cowper, called in as administrators were, as far as we know, the only one to be paid from the liquidation proceeds. Auction Atrium which ‘Ceased Trading With Immediate Effect’ was funded by the highly reputable venture capitol investment group ‘Stargate’ raising an initial £250k with a further £2.3m raised by private equity investment.
Auctionata the Berlin-based online art and auction house secured €37 million US $52 million in total since its founding. Among investors are Holtzbrinck, e.ventures, Earlybird and REN. Auctionata Partner, Dr. Christian Nagel, has said “The commitment of the existing investors once again demonstrates the degree of trust that Auctionata has already established within the market and could prove the success of the business model of live-stream auctions”. If TRUST is key at Auctionata questions of staff due diligence are essential and Allison Earl Woessner is clearly in position at the helm of Auctionata’s UK operation. The reputation of a company hangs on the integrity of their staff. Can we really trust this new kid on the block, as we would Sotheby’s, Christie’s or Bonham’s?
Photo: Allison Earl Woessner UK Director Auctionata / Alexander Zacke CEO Auctionata