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The Sale of Misattributed Artworks and Antiques at Auction

Anne L. Bandle

The glamour and mystery of the art auction, gathering interested buyers from across the globe, makes it one of the most fascinating marketplaces in existence. ‘Sleepers’, artworks or antiques that have been undervalued and mislabelled due to an expert’s oversight and consequently undersold, appear regularly. This fascinating new book provides the first extensive study of the phenomenon of sleepers through an in-depth analysis of the contractual relationships, liability and remedies that arise in the context of auction sales.
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Chapter 4: Interests and expectations in sleeper cases

Anne L. Bandle


At the outset of every auction sale is an owner who decides to consign his property with an auction house.1 The winning bidder of the auction sale, i.e. the purchaser, becomes “the final actor.”2 The sale’s result produces a threefold legal relationship among the consignor, the auctioneer and the purchaser.

The auction house is the central player: although it acts as the transactional medium, it sets all the rules. The auction house’s terms and conditions bind the consignor and the purchaser under the applicable national law.3

In the jurisdictions of England and the United States, the auction house defines the sale contract’s terms even though it is not party to the contract. In any case, the auction house’s terms are carefully drafted in order to meet the specific needs and interests of all three involved players.

When it comes to the sale of a sleeper at auction, one must ask which party – if any – actually benefits from the sale and which may be harmed? What interests and expectations does each party have when participating in an auction sale?

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