Sometimes the Mother of Invention is Necessity: Video Conferencing

- by Bruce E. McKinney


Interaction and a record

The collectible paper field has been moving online for many years.  But never have there been reasons for auction and dealer catalogues to further reorganize and transform to conform to the law, common sense and decency as reality is being shaped by the Coronavirus disaster.


Auctions recently we have seen wholesale cancellations while others have been suspended.  A few weeks later many are posted, even to the point that April suggests it might be a strong month.  For reference, you can search the auctions for lots of interest through the search box at the top of this page.  Such auctions now posted are the outcome of traditional processes long prepared before the recent imbroglio.  The months ahead will better reflect the multitude of ways auctions will adjust.


Let’s consider how the auction business will be further transformed by the ongoing electronic revolution under the unusual requirements of helping and serving their teams and clients.


At the outset houses are considered for consignments.  Many will employ Zoom or similar services to facilitate electronic interaction via the Internet which is ideal when safety, health and working from a distance are appropriate while creating a permanent record.  Such interactions can be scheduled or requested by email or phone.


For a house they can open a call or an electronic session using the audio and visual capabilities that many up-to-date computers provide.  For the prospect or consignor they will also need a reasonably large screen and a reasonably up-to-date operating system.  Both are important to view and react.  When the house initiates the conference or conversation, the consignor is offered a link to join.  Together an item or items can be discussed and seen by staff working from home or away while the entire session is copied for further reference.


Subsequently a house may make an offer with an exchange of terms.  An agreement signed by both parties can be exchanged electronically, after which the house may select the packer and carrier with an inventory control form shared with consignor and house.


Upon receipt of the material, the house will compare the inventory form and verify to consignor their receipt.  Such steps seem rudimentary but essential as items can be misplaced or misidentified.


At the next stage each item will be collated, cataloged and graded by condition.  A rough description will be built, explaining significance and importance as well as appropriateness to inclusion in various categories of collections.  Once sequenced by control number, author name in alphabetical order, by date or place published, the house may place specific material in a scheduled event.


Cataloguers will then revise and rebuild descriptions to often double and triple check.  Images are then shot, often numbering from 2 to occasionally 12, when appropriate to illuminate complexity or highlight value.


When the sale is organized there will be printed catalogues [in many cases] but the electronic catalogue will become the gold standard.


When appropriate, the interview or interviews by the consignor that have been captured on Zoom or other alternatives, can be edited and included in the electronic catalogue.  For example, for a 50 lot consignment of “my great grandfather Joe” a 3 or 5 minute story would both charm consignors [a factor] and interest and explain to bidders the who that often is relevant to the what.


For managing the editing of the filmed sessions I expect two options, a list of approved free-lance film editors and or, in- house film editors.


As well, dealers may employ similar processes whether to encourage consignments and to bring the catalogues and consignors to life.  These processes will be remarkably similar.


For reference my son Tom and I have made a Zoom chat that is simply a rough cut but captures a substantial part of what a consignor conversation with an auction house or dealer might look like.


A Brief Conversation [a link to youtube]  

As well I’m including an email address for Joe Belk who could edit/review the rough cut and develop one or more brief video insets into electronic catalogues.


Here are Joe’s contact information.  510 846 8182.