What auction catalogue analysis cannot tell us about the market
Yates, Donna (2022) “What auction catalogue analysis cannot tell us about the market”, in Michelle D. Fabiani, Kate Melody Burmon, Saskia Hufnagel (eds.), Global Perspectives on Cultural Property Crime. London: Routledge.
Auction catalogue analyses have become a staple of academic attempts to understand both the legal and the illicit trade in antiquities. This is, in part, because they represent one of the only publicly accessible data sets available about this opaque and secretive market. Yet analysis of auction catalogue data may be an unsuitable method for understanding the key questions and concerns that such analysis aims to address. In this chapter, I question the extent to which buyer preferences, perceptions, and behaviour can be assessed from the type of auction catalogue analyses that are standard in this field. The remaining open questions about the results of auction sales indicate that in-depth, qualitative research conducted on auction buyers is required to qualify and contextualise nearly all analyses or auction results; exactly the kind of research that is nearly impossible for researchers undertake. All told, auctions and their catalogues represent a limited segment of the antiquities market, and what we as researchers can reconstruct from the public information available about these auctions represents a limited segment of even the auction market. Thus, the applicability of assertions about the effectiveness of any regulatory approach based on such analyses is limited.