News Column

St. Louis Post-Dispatch Consumer Central column

February 7, 2014

By Kavita Kumar, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Feb. 07--For years, Ivey-Selkirk Auctioneers was a reputable name around St. Louis, including among the city's wealthy who often turned to the Clayton auction house to handle the sale of their antiques and fine art.

In 2010, it auctioned off a signed first edition of Ernest Hemingway's "A Farewell to Arms" for the St. Louis Book Fair. And in 2007, it sold a painting by noted 19th century American artist Frederic Edwin Church for more than $2.5 million, a record price for the firm at the time.

But in recent years, the company, which dates to 1830 and is the second-oldest auction house in the U.S., has been facing complaints -- and lawsuits -- from angry customers who said they were never paid for the items they consigned.

The troubles have escalated in recent weeks with more customers reporting receiving bounced checks. And then last week, about half of its remaining staff defected to start their own firm, saying they could no longer do business for a company that was not paying their clients.

The exodus apparently led the company to halt its normal operations. Its offices were closed this week. And its phone number, which typically is answered by an employee, has been going straight to voice mail.

Malcolm Ivey, the firm's owner and president, said in an email this week that Ivey-Selkirk has canceled an upcoming auction and is conducting business on an "appointment basis with our existing clients." He added that the company is restructuring its schedule and staff.

But he did not address the bounced checks or why the firm has not been paying clients in a timely fashion. And he did not respond to a follow-up request for comment.

One of the firm's jilted customers is Tammy Pentz of Hillsboro. She took several items to the auction house to be consigned over the summer. A Rolex watch, a diamond bracelet, dolls, vases and other jewelry she had inherited ended up selling at auction for more than $20,000. After Ivey-Selkirk's cut, she said she was owed $19,497. She was supposed to receive a check within 60 days. When it didn't arrive, she began making inquiries.

"I kept calling him," she said, referring to Ivey. "He kept saying, 'Oh, I sent it. Let me try to track that down. Maybe it got lost.' There were lots of excuses."

She did finally receive a check in January that she said was post-dated for a week later. She deposited it. She heard back from the bank a couple days later that it had bounced.

That's what happened to Dick Jacklow. The retired gallery owner who splits his time between Chicago and Naples, Fla., said he didn't have any problems when he consigned some items with Ivey-Selkirk in 2010.

But he had a much bumpier experience last year. In December, he received a $5,028 check from Ivey-Selkirk for oil and watercolor paintings he had consigned. Not only was the payment late, but the check bounced, he said. So he called the auction house, which apologized and promised to send another check right away.

"Every time I called Malcolm, he said, 'I'll send you a check in a couple of days,'" Jacklow said. "The last time I talked to him was a week before last. He said, 'I'll send you a check on Monday.' ... I waited the whole week. No money came."

The Better Business Bureau in St. Louis, which has given Ivey-Selkirk an "F" rating, has logged more than 35 complaints against the company in the last few years. The complaints have all been pretty much the same: Either the payments came late or not at all, said Bill Smith, a BBB investigator.

Some consigners were able to get paid eventually, but only after they went to the police or contacted the BBB for help, he said. Others went to Ivey-Selkirk's offices in person.

"In some cases, they went and sat on its doorstep until they received payment," Smith said.

The BBB has spoken to Ivey about the complaints. He's blamed the economy for the delays and the extended time to receive payments from online bidders from abroad, Smith said.

Ivey bought the auction company in 2002. It was previously known as Phillips-Selkirk. The Selkirk family, which ran the business for six generations, sold it a couple years before another company in 1998.

Susan Kime had worked at Ivey-Selkirk for about 20 year as an art appraiser before she resigned last week. She is now heading a new auction house with six other former Ivey-Selkirk employees called Link Auction Galleries.

She and other employees had become increasingly concerned about clients not being paid. Asked why the company was not following through on its obligations, she said she couldn't say.

"There wasn't a lot of communication with the owner and the staff," she said.

Ivey-Selkirk was sued four times last year for not paying customers for their consigned items. In one case, a St. Louis doctor was awarded $15,950 by a judge. Two other cases, however, were dismissed.

The most recent case was filed in December. It involves more than $60,000 owed to a consigner who sold a "noteworthy collection" of British landscape and portrait paintings through Ivey-Selkirk.

After repeated requests to be paid, the consigner did eventually receive a check. But according to the lawsuit, it bounced.


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Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

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