Dickinson’s history as a leader in private sales

Dickinson gallery was founded in 1993 as a specialist in private sales. When Simon Dickinson and David Ker first formed a partnership, they identified a significant gap in the art market for a discreet way to buy and sell artworks on the secondary market outside the public arena. Dickinson was able to offer these clients a bespoke service, acting as an agent to handle transactions and to negotiate purchases and sales on a commission basis.

Historically, dealers acted as principals, selling pieces they had purchased as stock – often from auctions – and then cleaned, restored, re-framed, and occasionally re-attributed. These works were then presented at exhibitions open to the public. Private sales can be more discreet than this traditional model, with strategies tailored to each individual client’s wishes and needs. This has proven a successful business model and a service that appeals to clients, as evidenced by the fact that many other galleries have adopted the same strategy, and the auction houses now have private sales departments.

The benefits of private sales


There are a number of advantages to selling privately, but key among these is discretion. This is essential not only to preserve a client’s personal privacy, but also to safeguard the privacy of the artwork itself. If a painting or sculpture is offered for sale by a discreet private sale specialist such as Dickinson, even if it does not find an immediate buyer, it has not in any way damaged its marketability or current market value. For this reason, private sales reduce the risk for the seller, and can even have a positive effect on the future value held in an artwork.


Although our sales are private, our terms and processes are transparent. In the internet era, it has become all the more essential to lay out a clear strategy featuring a transparent commission and pricing structure. This is one of the motivations that prompted us to begin posting prices on our labels at art fairs, as one of the first major galleries to make this change. The private sales model offers static pricing, and a system in which the first buyer to have an offer accepted is the winner. There are no hidden extra fees. This move has proven extremely popular among our clients, and our transparency gives both buyers and sellers greater confidence in our business. Transactions can also be negotiated in a fully transparent way, with contracts completed directly between vendor and buyer, if both parties agree.

Bespoke publicity:

The acquisition or sale of an artwork is an extremely personal, and consequently often highly private, matter. We can adjust the level of publicity we provide to suit each client’s needs, whether that means exhibiting at art fairs, providing images and interviews to our press contacts, and advertising on digital platforms – or conducting all business behind closed doors. In many instances, no one but the buyer and seller need even be aware that a sale has taken place.

Client Control:

Private sales allow the vendor a level of control over the sale process that is not possible under any other circumstances. In addition to communicating any offers, we are able to disclose to our vendors vital details such as the source of the offer (a private collector, advisor on behalf of a private buyer, museum, or another dealer buying for stock) so that he or she can make a fully informed decision.


Moreover, as private sales do not carry fixed deadlines, we have the freedom to explore the various options open to each client, for instance negotiating a sale to the nation in lieu of tax. Both buyers and sellers are spared having to make instant decisions: a buyer can consider a price he is willing to pay, while a seller can reflect on an offer before deciding to accept or refuse it. The private sale model also facilitates institutional purchases. Museums are obligated to confirm potential acquisitions with their board of trustees, and need time to do so, which our vendors are often willing to accommodate. And, finally, private sales are not restricted to a limited calendar the way auctions are; rather, each consignment is given its own tailor-made timeline, with specialists able to offer works to clients throughout the year as opportunities arise.

How can we help you with a private sale?

Ultimately, some 70-80% of our business in any one year is transacted privately, but unless we know you and vice versa, we have no way of knowing what the potential mutual benefits might be. We always give priority offers to collectors or institutions we know to be actively looking and buying, so please register your collecting interests with us so that we can begin discussing how we might assist with your future collecting or divestment goals. We look forward to introducing you to what Dickinson has to offer!