There is nothing antique in the way that Sotheby's now sacks its staff. The rise and fall of Old Masters has left the Bond Street auctioneer, headed by young master Gowrie, with a few too many people on its payroll.
Past Earls of Gowrie would have adopted a simple and irreversible procedure for reducing numbers. These days, however, both family and firm are thoroughly modern: you lose your job, not your head.
Just before Christmas Sotheby's decided to make some hundred staff redundant, but one hapless employee was in Switzerland on company business. Summoned to the phone, he was told to wait by the fax machine, where the details of his redundancy came winging in over the wires. It gives a new meaning to going under the hammer.