Statement on Vintage Items with Hateful Imagery

Statement on Vintage Items with Hateful Imagery on June 20, 2020

I’m Phil, CEO at LiveAuctioneers.  Each week, there are over a hundred thousand new listings on LiveAuctioneers.  A small percentage of the items are vile and offensive. I periodically question whether to at all facilitate those relics resale. Here is why I’m still not 100% certain of the answer: 

At Yom Kippur services a couple of years ago, my rabbi spoke of a very valuable item in his possession—a Schutzstaffel hat.  He takes it out every Fall to help him write his Yom Kippur sermon.  As some have noted on social media, many of the buyers of the vintage items on LiveAuctioneers are museums, historians, Rabbis, clergy, and others I’m sure are not looking to promote hate. 

We don’t support the sale of new hateful items. If you see a seller of replicas of hateful items—please let us know and we’ll remove them. There are already a sufficient number in existence to preserve our history. We'll be working with expert appraisers and collectors to identify and remove hateful reproductions as soon as possible. 

We seek to reduce the amplification of hateful imagery by using algorithms to reduce the presence of content that disparages individuals and groups in both onsite recommendations and offsite promotions. We’re working on getting better at this. We’re erring on the side of being cautious. At the moment, we errantly suppress some stainless steel cutlery and jewelry because it’s often abbreviated SS, similar to the Schutzstaffel.  

We’ll likely donate more to charity this year than we earn from hateful items resale.  As part of our response to the killing of George Floyd, we’ve begun donating to the Southern Poverty Law Center and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education fund. We also memorialized our unofficial policy of ceasing business with any auctioneer or bidder who persists in any form of racist, sexist, bigoted, or harassing remarks to our team members. 

Though I do not condone hateful items or symbols, I believe it is hard to determine what may or may not be considered ‘art’ or an object worth retaining for posterity. Just this week, we received requests to censor both protest art with nudity that others considered pro women’s liberation; and, powerful art from Nina Chanel Abney that includes blackface yet is likely anti-racist.  

Censorship is a very slippery slope, and I am humble in editing the human record. I sincerely do worry it's possible that eliminating history--restricting it’s access, research and memorialization to only ownership and uses approved by a small group--may make us more likely to repeat past atrocities.  I personally prefer to see the winners of hateful items be people planning to put them on public display in institutions but I understand if a Rabbi or artist or researcher wishes to use the item in a manner I can’t foresee. 

LiveAuctioneers does not need hateful item listings. All auctioneers are encouraged to have their consignors directly donate racist items to institutions like the Jim Crow Museum at Ferris State University, the United States Holocaust Museum, or The National World War II Museum.  

So, in summary:

-We don’t support the sale of replicas of hateful items. No one should make these items in the 21st century.

-We don’t work with racist or bigoted auctioneers.

-Censorship of art and relics, and vetting of buyers, is complex. 

-We’d rather consignors donate these items to institutions.  

-We’re working on different mechanisms to better detect hate memorabilia. 

-We donate a portion of our proceeds to organizations that fight hate and support social justice broadly. 

-We are working on being better.

I’m sure this answer will not satisfy everyone.  We’ll continue listening and getting better. 

Sincerely,

Phil Michaelson

CEO, LiveAuctioneers