Bankers battle for Lehman souvenirs at London auction

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Bankers in crisp suits came in search of a memento, while art lovers were just hoping for a bargain as artefacts from collapsed investment bank Lehman Brothers were sold off in London Wednesday.

Many bidders at Christie's auction house were ex-Lehman staff who said they wanted to take home a company sign or artwork to help them remember their time at the bank whose collapse was a key date in the 2008 global financial crisis.

But with so many bankers in the sale room, a keepsake was never going to come cheap. Some items sold for around 20 times their estimate price.

"I was an employee (at Lehman) for eight-and-a-half years, I was there at the end," one man, who did not want to be identified, told AFP before the sale.

"It's a memory I want. It was a sad end to it all but I had a lot of good times there, it was where I started off my career."

For others, the 300-lot auction offered nostalgia for a lost era of high living.

"Everyone is super-cautious now, that bon vivant attitude I kind of miss," added Dorene Toh, who used to work in the "corporate world" but left in the 1990s after getting "burnt out."

"I still have the Missoni coat I bought when I got my first bonus even though it's got moth holes," she added. "There's a bit of nostalgia... it's about all that era which is changing so much. It will never be the same."

One of the first items to go under the hammer was a metal Lehman Brothers sign which hung outside its European headquarters in London.

Bidders in the bankers' uniform of dark suit and blue shirts put down their BlackBerrys and joined a frantic battle which saw the dapper auctioneer bending and twisting to take wave after wave of bids from around the room.

The sign eventually sold for 42,050 pounds (50,000 euros, 67,000 dollars) to an anonymous telephone bidder, prompting gasps in the sale room. The price, which included the buyers' premium, was around 14 times its estimate.

Another sign marking the 2004 opening of the building by Gordon Brown -- Britain's former prime minister and the then finance minister -- fetched 28,750 pounds with buyers' premium, nearly 20 times its estimate.

It is almost exactly two years since Lehman filed for the biggest bankruptcy in US corporate history.

And the after-effects of the global financial crisis, which some say was linked to the excessive behaviour of bankers, are still being felt worldwide.

The auction, ordered by administrators PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), should raise at least two million pounds -- a tiny fraction of the more than 600 billion dollars which Lehman owes.

Another sale of items from Lehman's US operation raised over 12 million dollars at Sotheby's in New York Saturday.

Reminders of the scale of Lehman's collapse were hard to escape at the auction.

Items being sold included a copy of the company's "mission statement" pledging "unwavering commitment to our clients, our shareholders and each other" and "superior returns for our shareholders".

Other lots included rows of leather-bound volumes of Shakespeare and Dickens, works by painters including Lucian Freud and Howard Hodgkin and corporate art oddities such as a set of stone pillows.

While many of the bankers at the auction seemed keen to forget the bad times, others could not resist joking about the industry's enduring poor reputation.

Asked whether he was bidding for an investment or for pleasure, Geoffrey Thomas, 50, quipped: "Just going to keep it, I'm certainly not going to put anything in the bank."

© 2010 AFP

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