Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Big Dance Part 1

Andrew here, just having returned from Americana Week in New York. Four days that included previewing four auctions, attending two, and going to three big shows. So how'd it go?

At Christie's, the offerings were a bit sparse, but some quality stuff. Best thing was that the estimates were notably conservative. Unfortunately, the sale felt a bit off...a number of passes and objects selling below estimate. A notable exception was the wonderful double portrait by Ammi Phillips (pictured here) that exceeded its estimate, selling for just about three-quarters of a million dollars. As one might have expected, the Skull and Bones ballot box, made from a real skull, was withdrawn, and is probably already back in New Haven by now.

At Sotheby's, a stronger offering with more variety (including more and better silver and the Elinor Gordon collection of Chinese export porcelain). The sale proved a good one, including a mind-blowing new world record for a piece of American silver that brought nearly $6 million.

I also previewed the Bonham's and the Keno sales, which included some good Americana and marine art...we'll have to wait to see the results.

My thoughts on the auctions? It's tough to get the top-shelf consignments in this economy. Many collectors are holding on to their treasures in the hopes that the market will return to pre-recession levels. I don't know that the market will get back there anytime soon, and even if prices to get back in that general ballpark, I am not sure that the market can absorb all that will be thrown at it without some prices suffering. But I suppose we'll find out over the coming years.

Up next time--the shows....


james conrad said...

I followed this stool at Christie's because Albert Sack paid 5 mil for a similar stool 2 years ago. It sold for a little less than 500k, or about 10% of what Sack paid.

The question is, did Sack over pay because he thought it was the only example extant still in private hands or prices for early american have mostly collapsed?

I suspect a little of both.

Hollie and Andrew said...

I am not sure that the economy or the state of the Americana market had much to do with it. The first stool sold in the midst of Wall Street's meltdown in the fall of 2008...buyers were never more hesitant than then. And, I think the antiques market is rebounding right now.

I do think Sack overpaid. In fact, overpaid might be an understatement. That's one of those prices that is difficult to justify (like the silver bowl that Sotheby's just sold for $6M). But of course, there was an underbidder, soooo.....

I see this happen all the time at auction (though on a (much) smaller scale)...some great thing hits the market with a big splash and sells for crazy money. Once the word gets out, almost invariably, someone else uncovers a similar object. And that second one never gets to the price the first one did. The bar is set impossibly high. The second immediately illustrates that the first is NOT one of a kind. More importantly, however, I think, is that of the two determined bidders with the first object, one of them now has one, and thus won't bid on the second.

Now..if only six or seven more stools appear, maybe I can mortgage my house and afford one!