To this day private auctions seem strange to Myanmar people. Myanmar Auction Company is trying to establish a competitive auction system and educate people. Myanmore sat down with one of its directors Ko Ko San, also known as Ko Thet, to talk about potentials and challenges of the industry.
Founded in late 2018, the company is managed by four like-minded entrepreneurs with love for rare artefacts. Despite its young age, the organisation has arranged five auctions, with the most recent one in mid-January.
“The first auction was for cars. After holding three automobile auctions, we’ve focused more on paintings and rare items. Now we already have held two such auctions and will organise the third one at the end of March,” says Ko Thet.
Problems and solutions
Collecting and assessing artefacts and paintings is a very complicated job. When the advertisements calling for sellers to auction were announced, people from all corners of Myanmar had flocked to the company to present their Items.
“Some people had expected too much. So, we have to tell them the real worth of their belongings after the detailed assessments.”
From Konbaung-era paintings to porcelain from the Ming dynasty, the company’s collections are treasure troves of rare items from different regions and periods. The upcoming auction will be displaying nearly 150 paintings and curios. But, Myanmar cultural items are not for sale, just for exhibition.
When you are dealing or collecting rare items, you have to be aware of swindlers.
“One guy brought Nat (deity) sculptures from banyan tree shrines and wanted to sell them as rare items!” the auctioneer says with a laugh, continuing: “We have to consult with experts for the paintings and rare items. They appraise each of them based on their experiences and the look of it. We do not have the equipment for carbon dating and this is a problem we have here. Therefore, we do not give any guarantee for authenticity on rare items due to technical weaknesses and requirements.”
Some items have particular markings that are evident of their authenticity. For example, the gifts from a British governor to a Hsipaw Sawbwa have engravings that tell the exact date.
“The gift set includes a sword, a silver cup used in eating eggs and other cutlery. They’re dating back to the reign of King Thibaw, so over 100 years old.”
The rare items can come from anywhere – some were salvaged from the water and some dug out of the ground So, the auctioneers have to consult with experts from different areas of knowledge every Saturday weeks before the auction.
Still the pricing of a period piece is not set by default. The highest price that a buyer is willing to pay does not always meet the lowest price that a seller is willing to accept.
“One time, a gentleman won a bid at Ks 8 million. But the seller wanted Ks 10 million. So we couldn’t sell it and the bidder was upset. The problem was the sellers expected a price so high that the bidders couldn’t meet.”
Currently, there is no service fee and the sellers have to pay 25% as a commission only after their items are sold. The auctioneers have a plan to start asking for 2% of the asking price as a service fee.
“The 2% will be collected as a service fee upfront. The consignors have to pay off the remaining 23% if their items are sold. This is to keep our business sustainable and also to encourage the sellers to set more realistic prices on their items.”
Believe in the future
The auction is held in conjunction with a public exhibition that showcases freeholders’ curios and paintings. Art historians, for instance, will have a chance to observe a painting by prominent Kongbaung-era artist Saya Chone.
Many people in Myanmar are unfamiliar with private auctions and the rules. The company wants to build a constructive communication with bidders through edification.
“We want to organise competitive auctions with transparency. To this end, bidders have to follow a set of rules. Many people don’t know they have to register and deposit some cash in the registration counter. Some know but don’t want to follow. They prefer buying the items off the shelf.”
The auctioneers had asked the bidders to make Ks 500,000 or US$ 300 in the deposit counter for auctions. But since no one complied, the auctioneers yielded and let them bid through registration. Ko Thet wants bidders to know that establishing an auction system needs their cooperation.
Despite many obstacles, the auctioneer is optimistic about the future: “Building up a system from scratch is never easy. That’s why we had eased the rules at the beginning. We will restrict the rules from upcoming auctions. Eventually, everyone will get used to them.”
Even if you are not interested in bidding, you can still learn the rich and diverse cultures of Myanmar through freeholders’ curios and paintings at the exhibition.
Visit the website myanmarauction.com or follow their Facebook for more info.