Selling at Guernsey's

Q: You have a valuable item or substantial collection of items and are deciding the best method of sale. You’ve come to realize that a public auction in all likelihood will produce the greatest financial returns, but which auction house or auctioneer should you use?

A: Naturally, you’ve come to our website and you can bet that we’ll attempt to convince you that working with Guernsey’s is indeed the way for you to go. But before we do that, let us assure you that we are aware that you have other fine options. If you contact us and we think another firm will be able to produce stronger results for your particular consignment, we’ll let you know that and likely make a recommendation. On the other hand, if we think that if our passion for selling extraordinary objects and our unique methods of marketing match up with what you are considering selling, we’ll let you know that too.

The Guernsey's Method

In virtually every direction our auctions have taken us, Guernsey’s has been able to achieve world record results for items sold. $1 millioneach for rock-era guitars, $3 million for a singlebaseball and $6 million for a dilapidated yacht once owned by the Kennedy family give justa small hint of these records. Producing results like these is no accident. It comes from aggressive marketing strategies developed over decades. Let us explain.

Decades ago, when existing auctioneers were relying on what we’ll describe as a “good old boys” method of marketing (i.e., not much marketing at all), if you were on someone’s mailing list, you were notified of an upcoming auction. That mailing list and perhaps a small advertisement or two was the extent of the effort most auctioneers put forth to alert potential buyers to upcoming auction sales. Interestingly enough, most firms still rely on this antiquated method of promotion.

By comparison, when Guernsey’s opened its doors in the mid-1970’s, we did so with a marketing background. Our firm’s founders were both schooled in marketing and both had worked in high-powered New York City advertising agencies. Armed with this experience, the pair reasoned that if the local, national and even international media (print and broadcast, the internet didn’t exist back then) were properly alerted to an exciting upcoming event and were willing to feature stories about that event, vast audiences would be alerted to it, likely producing strong results.

It took several years for the media to get on board... to understand that feature stories of exciting upcoming auctions were indeed newsworthy and meaningful to their audiences. The first brief notices we received (back in the 1970’s) appeared in the New York Times. Within a year or two, a few sentences turned into full length articles that appeared not only in New York newspapers but papers around the country. In short order, these articles attracted the folks in broadcasting and before you knew it, we were on NBC’s Today Show, the leading show on morning television. With competition working in our favor, the CBS and ABC networks noticed these appearances too and wanted us on as well. In just a few years, coverage of our auctions was all over the place culminating with a phone call from a reporter at CNN. “Do you know,” he asked “that media coverage of the then current auction we were preparing for” (it could have been our Elvis or JFK event, we don’t recall) “ had just reached CNN’s ranking as the most widely covered news story globally!” In other words, more people (countless millions of them, and corporations and museums as well) around the world were learning of one of our events than of any other news story happening on the planet at that time. Incredible!

Today, with the assistance of our powerful publicity-generating partner - Rubenstein Public Relations - feature stories of our upcoming auctions are routinely featured on many of the leading network television shows (the Today Show, Good Morning, America, the Early Show) as well as on CNN, the Associated Press and the leading broadcast and print networks around the world. And of course, coverage of our events are all over the internet.

Speaking of the internet, those unable to attend our events in person can bid in “real time” on, the leading website that facilitates absentee bidder participation. By combining the hundreds of thousands of registered bidders on with the millions of people who learn about our auctions through the media, world record prices result.

About our commissions...

We at Guernsey’s take great pride in our events. We often feel humbled when folks entrust us with collections they’ve assembled often over a lifetime. But it takes more than just our passion to produce record-setting auctions. It takes aggressive marketing, extensive research and dozens of other steps necessary to maximize the financial potential of what is about to be sold. Add to the mix the fact that we - and most of our events - are in the heart of New York City’s most affluent neighborhood* and you realize that we spend a lot in an effort to do out best. (*Love it or hate it, NYC is both the auction and media capital of the world. It is where substantial amounts are most often spent at auction. It may cost more to do business here, but the results have spoken, year after year, for themselves.)

Despite the fact that we often spend far more than any other auction house in an effort to do our very best, our commissions tend to fall within the range that most auctioneers / auction houses charge. Our commission can vary somewhat. For example, we might charge less if someone were to come to us with one or a small number of very valuable objects as opposed to another person who offers us a very large collection of items. Simply put, there is a lot more work necessary to present a large number of items as opposed to a small number. With this in mind, our commission might be as low as 10% or as high as 22%.

Unlike many other firms, we don’t pass along various expenses in addition to our commission. In most cases, it is the responsibility of the consignor to get his or her material to us (there are exceptions to this) and pay an additional small charge for insurance if the consignor doesn’t have his or her own. That’s it. Nothing more.

A further word about commissions...

A number of years ago, we sold a single baseball for $3 million($3,000,000), which was a staggering twenty three times greater than the previous world record of $126,000 for any baseball ever sold. Two years after our sale, a homerun was hit which broke the record for home runs that the ball we sold had previously set. The fellow who caught that new ball came to us but balked when we quoted our commission. “I’ve spoken to another auctioneer who will charge me 2% less than you will.” He claimed.

The fact that this other auctioneer had little experience working with the media in spreading the word about an upcoming event and had never sold a ball for any amount remotely close to the level we are talking about here mattered little. The consignor went to the other firm to save 2%.

Sorry to say that that consignor found out the hard way that you “get what you pay for.” Not realizing that “it takes money to make money”, little was spent to promote the sale of that other ball. As a result, the ball brought barely more than $400,000 or roughly 13% of the amount we had been able to achieve for a similar ball. To save 2%, the consignor received $2,600,000 less than he might have had he gone with us.

Increasingly, Guernsey’s has been asked to work with many prominent museums and other fine institutions. We recently were honored to have been chosen to represent the complete (and astounding) archive of Rosa Parks. We are excited about the projects we take on and welcome all inquiries, so if you have any questions, please give us a call. If we can’t help you, we likely can direct you to someone who can. On the other hand, if we do get involved, we think you’ll find within Guernsey’s a passion and dedication to your project unmatched by any other firm.

By the way...

We are occasionally asked to “simply sell an item privately” without taking it to auction. And occasionally we do just that. Be aware, however, that a private sale (technically, a “private treaty” sale) often takes far longer than selling an item at auction. Despite the fact that we have long lists of past buyers and maintain friendships with many successful people, the ability to “make a match” by finding just the right buyer willing to pay an acceptable amount for a special item can be quite difficult. By comparison, the promotion of items scheduled for auction places these items in the line of sight of millions of potential buyers who then come to us. But we have had many successful private treaty sales (an important collection of items relating to Franklin Roosevelt and a magnificent necklace worn by Princess Diana are just two of those items) and we are certainly willing to consider all options when you get in touch with us.

And one last thing...

If you’ve never heard of the term “finder’s fee”, let us tell you all about it. Let’s say that a neighbor of yours is an elderly widow whose late husband had been a serious collector of rare historic documents (or baseball cards, artwork from the WPA or any other interesting category of collecting.) Your neighbor is now facing difficult economic times but seems unaware that the collection her husband had cherished is now squirreled away in the attic. By alerting us to her collection, you would be entitled to a “finder’s fee”. By helping her, you will be helping yourself.

For additional information visit or contact Guernsey’s directly at 212-794-2280. For all consignment inquiries, please email us at