Apparently being an auctioneer is cool and hip (or we'll say "phat" to those under 35). In the past few months, three new auction firms have sprung up, and their names are very familiar.
In June, Thomas Schwenke, noted dealer of American Federal antiques, held the inaugural sale at Woodbury Auction, LLC in Woodbury, Connecticut. Five hundred lots from various consignors, and it looks like the results were good...a Charles II japanned desk-and-bookcase leading the way at just over $23,000.
Then, this past week, we see two announcements, one from Krause Publications, publishers of Antique Week, that they'll be morphing their live auction platform, Collect.com, into an auction firm, with their first auction scheduled for November 5. Also, MAD just posted an article on the May 2010 premier of Leigh Keno Auctions. Keno, veteran Americana dealer and PBS star, announced the auction company will sell anything and everything over $100.
With the current market, it may seem an odd time to start an auction company, but there is logic here. First, there is the ever-important cash flow. Dealers and trade papers have bills that need paid every month, so they need a reliable and regular flow of revenue to meet these expenses. A decline in print subscriptions or a string of shows with slow sales, and it can get tough. With auctions, you know that revenue will be coming in because the antiques will sell and you'll get commission dollars.
Additionally, these folks are capitalizing on what they see as opportunities. Antique Week is read by thousands of folks every week and they already have the technology in place for online auctions, so actually running auctions might be seen as the logical next step. For Mssrs. Keno and Schwenke, auctions might be a way to turn "no thank yous" into income. Because of their reputations, each probably gets hundreds of calls each year from folks wanting to sell single items or entire collections/estates. These guys deal in high-end stuff and thus probably only buy a teeny tiny fraction of what's offered to them. However, by offering an auction venue, they might be able to convert a high percentage of these calls to consignments, and thus commission dollars.
So...will these new ventures be successful? Too soon to tell, and there will be great challenges. Antique Week is likely to hear from their advertisers, many of whom are auctioneers who will now see the weekly trade paper as direct competition. Will AW continue to offer great ad spots to their subscribers/advertisers? Or will their own auctions take over the center spread of the National Section? Will Keno and Schwenke be able to maintain two busy schedules (that of a dealer, with shows and shop hours, and that of an auctioneer)? Will they be able to maintain consignment flow after the novelty of their venture has worn off? The competition for quality consignments is cut-throat, and it may be hard for a new firm, even with their venerable names, to compete long-term with the trusted names of Skinner, Northeast, Eldred's, Pook, Doyle, and others, including of course, Garth's.
We wish them all luck, and look forward to reporting on them as their auction businesses develop.