Rising Auction Commission Fees in the Digital Age



Auction houses, once synonymous with grandeur and the exclusive world of art and antiquities, are undergoing a significant transformation in the 21st century. Traditionally, these venerable institutions were known for their lavish printed catalogs, opulent event settings, and hefty commission fees. However, as technology continues to reshape the landscape of the collector’s market, the dynamics have shifted. This article explores the rising commission fees of auction houses, highlighting the impact of digitalization and the decreasing reliance on printed catalogs. Rising Auction Commission Fees

Digital Revolution

online auction

The collector’s world is embracing the digital age with open arms. Online auctions have become increasingly prevalent, allowing buyers and sellers to participate from the comfort of their homes. As the internet paves the way for global connectivity, auction houses are expanding their reach beyond traditional boundaries. This shift has significantly reduced overhead costs related to printed catalogs and physical exhibitions.

Decline of Printed Catalogs Rising Auction Commission Fees

auction catalog

In the past, printed catalogs were a fundamental part of the auction experience. These glossy, meticulously curated books not only provided descriptions of the lots but also served as keepsakes for collectors. However, with the digitization of the market, the production of these catalogs has significantly decreased. Today, many auction houses opt for online catalogs, which are not only cost-effective but also environmentally friendly.

Reduced Costs

One of the primary reasons behind the rising commission fees is the substantial reduction in costs associated with online auctions. Without the need for expansive, grandiose auction houses and the printed catalogs that often reached extravagant sizes, overhead costs have dwindled. These savings are then shifted onto the commission fees, which help to maintain the auction house’s profitability.

Global Reach Rising Auction Commission Fees

Online auctions have granted auction houses the ability to connect with a much broader global audience. The traditional auction room, limited by physical space, could only accommodate a limited number of attendees. In contrast, digital auctions can attract participants from every corner of the world. This expanded reach has increased competition for desirable lots, which has, in turn, driven up prices and commission fees.

Digital Infrastructure

Although the transition to online platforms has reduced some costs, auction houses have had to invest in sophisticated digital infrastructure to ensure the security and accessibility of their auctions. This includes building robust websites, implementing secure payment systems, and hiring IT experts to manage online events. These expenditures have contributed to the overall operational costs and have influenced the rising commission fees.

Market Competition

The online collector’s market is highly competitive, with several auction houses vying for collectors and sellers. To stay ahead in the digital age, auction houses must continually innovate, offering attractive terms and conditions to both buyers and sellers. This often means competing with other auction houses by offering competitive commission fees, special incentives, or premium services. This competitive environment can lead to the gradual increase in commission fees as auction houses strive to outdo each other.

Impact on the Auction World Rising Auction Commission Fees

The rising commission fees have created a complex dynamic in the auction world. While the convenience and accessibility of online auctions have expanded opportunities for buyers and sellers, the increased costs associated with these platforms have implications for the market as a whole. Collectors and sellers must carefully consider the financial aspects of participating in auctions, especially for high-value items. Rising Auction Commission Fees


The digital age has ushered in significant changes in the auction house industry. While the decline of printed catalogs and the increased online presence have reduced some costs, the competitive nature of the digital market, along with the necessary investments in digital infrastructure, has led to the rising commission fees of auction houses. In this evolving landscape, it is imperative for collectors and investors to adapt to the new dynamics of the market, staying informed about commission fee structures and exploring their options wisely to navigate the digital age of auctions.

39 percent

My View

In my view, charging a commission as high as 39% in today’s collector’s market seems unjustifiable – it appears to be driven by greed. It’s a well-known fact that when commission rates rise, they rarely see a downward adjustment. And don’t forget, the auction house cashes in twice – from the seller and buyer! Rising Auction Commission Fees


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1. What are the earliest known examples of passports, and how have they evolved?

The word "passport" came up only in the mid 15th Century. Before that, such documents were safe conducts, recommendations or protection letters. On a practical aspect, the earliest passport I have seen was from the mid 16th Century. Read more...

2. Are there any notable historical figures or personalities whose passports are highly sought after by collectors?

Every collector is doing well to define his collection focus, and yes, there are collectors looking for Celebrity passports and travel documents of historical figures like Winston Churchill, Brothers Grimm, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Read more...

3. How did passport designs and security features change throughout different periods in history, and what impact did these changes have on forgery prevention?

"Passports" before the 18th Century had a pure functional character. Security features were, in the best case, a watermark and a wax seal. Forgery, back then, was not an issue like it is nowadays. Only from the 1980s on, security features became a thing. A state-of-the-art passport nowadays has dozens of security features - visible and invisible. Some are known only by the security document printer itself. Read more...

4. What are some of the rarest and most valuable historical passports that have ever been sold or auctioned?

Lou Gehrig, Victor Tsoi, Marilyn Monroe, James Joyce, and Albert Einstein when it comes to the most expensive ones. Read more...

5. How do diplomatic passports differ from regular passports, and what makes them significant to collectors?

Such documents were often held by officials in high ranks, like ambassadors, consuls or special envoys. Furthermore, these travel documents are often frequently traveled. Hence, they hold a tapestry of stamps or visas. Partly from unusual places.

6. Can you provide insights into the stories behind specific historical passports that offer unique insights into past travel and migration trends?

A passport tells the story of its bearer and these stories can be everything - surprising, sad, vivid. Isabella Bird and her travels (1831-1904) or Mary Kingsley, a fearless Lady explorer.

7. What role did passports play during significant historical events, such as wartime travel restrictions or international treaties?

During war, a passport could have been a matter of life or death. Especially, when we are looking into WWII and the Holocaust. And yes, during that time, passports and similar documents were often forged to escape and save lives. Example...

8. How has the emergence of digital passports and biometric identification impacted the world of passport collecting?

Current modern passports having now often a sparkling, flashy design. This has mainly two reasons. 1. Improved security and 2. Displaying a countries' heritage, icons, and important figures or achievements. I can fully understand that those modern documents are wanted, especially by younger collectors.

9. Are there any specialized collections of passports, such as those from a specific country, era, or distinguished individuals?

Yes, the University of Western Sidney Library has e.g. a passport collection of the former prime minister Hon Edward Gough Whitlam and his wife Margaret. They are all diplomatic passports and I had the pleasure to apprise them. I hold e.g. a collection of almost all types of the German Empire passports (only 2 types are still missing). Also, my East German passport collection is quite extensive with pretty rare passport types.

10. Where can passport collectors find reliable resources and reputable sellers to expand their collection and learn more about passport history?

A good start is eBay, Delcampe, flea markets, garage or estate sales. The more significant travel documents you probably find at the classic auction houses. Sometimes I also offer documents from my archive/collection. See offers... As you are already here, you surely found a great source on the topic 😉

Other great sources are: Scottish Passports, The Nansen passport, The secret lives of diplomatic couriers

11. Is vintage passport collecting legal? What are the regulations and considerations collectors should know when acquiring historical passports?

First, it's important to stress that each country has its own laws when it comes to passports. Collecting old vintage passports for historical or educational reasons is safe and legal, or at least tolerated. More details on the legal aspects are here...

Does this article spark your curiosity about passport collecting and the history of passports? With this valuable information, you have a good basis to start your own passport collection.

Question? Contact me...