The Feb. 1-2 furniture and decorative arts auction at Leslie Hindman in Chicago seemed not to reflect hard times. The gallery was packed and many were standing. A bank of phones, and ten staff with laptop computers, were constantly busy. Leslie Hindman announced that 113 telephone bidders would be bidding on their selected items in addition to the many who left absentee bids.
Hindman felt her auction house had not been impacted by the loss of eBay Live Auctions. The business subscribes to another major auction service, has their own live auction service as part of their Web site, and also have live coverage from an Internet outlet in the U.K., where many high quality items, especially paintings, are sold.
When asked about the outlook for 2009, Hindman had several comments. “2008 was not our best year, and we anticipate 2009 will be a bit slow, as people are being conservative.” In spite of that, she was very positive about the outlook for 2009 and pointed out that “volume continues high and good pieces always sell well.” If the economy stabilizes in 2009, and begins to show improvement, she felt the market might improve quickly, as some people with high quality merchandise to sell are holding back, waiting for better economic conditions. Furniture – except more modern pieces – is soft. Buyers are more conservative and more focused on their buying. The market continues to be global as represented by a high number of overseas buyers, helped by their U.K. auction site. Currently, about 80 percent of items sold go outside Illinois.
Hindman also referenced a recent New York Times article about the two major auction houses in New York, both with offices overseas. They are cutting staff but also focusing primarily on very high end material. She felt this would be a big boost to auction houses like hers, which have some high end items but also serve the mid- and upper-level market.
Hindman’s specialist in furniture and decorative arts is Andrew Lick, who reiterated that quality sells and also felt the soft furniture market has bottomed and, hopefully, will at least remain stable and soon begin to command higher prices. He indicated that this sale had drawn a lot of interest with jade and several of the clocks drawing buyer attention. He echoed Hindman’s sentiments that buyers are less impulsive and a bit more conservative.
The two-day sale grossed $1,215,000 and Lick turned out to be a prophet! One of the major gems of the sale was a jade piece, described as “pale celadon jade vase, Qingiong.” Made in the 18th century with carvings of trees, rocks and pines, it drew international attention. It measured 5 1/2 inches tall and stood on a hand carved wooden base. Estimated at $15,000-$20,000, it sold for $96,400 to a happy overseas bidder. Many pieces sold well but apparently jade pieces and Meissen figures in general went above expectations.
Another item selling well, above estimate, was a French porcelain mounted gild bronze singing bird mantel clock, made circa 1875. It was 26 inches high and is attributed to Bontems. It had a pre-auction estimate of $4,000-$6,000, which was topped by a clock enthusiast who paid $28,000.
A beautiful George II tall case clock, made by William Graham, had a lot of admirers. It stood 95 inches high and had a fabulous patina and very interesting face. It sold within estimate for $9,760.
A rather unusual “furniture” piece was a Western Union Telegraph Company stock ticker, with base. Its brass plaque had a patent date of 1903 and extra ticker tape stored in the base. It probably would be a bit “slow” for current stock quotes but sold slightly above the estimate for $7,320.
As always, a few items sold below estimate. A Russian jeweled, tricolor gold and guilloche enameled egg, styled after Faberge, and standing 5 1/2 inches high, was expected to fetch at least $15,000. It came close, selling for $12,200.
Bronzes were in plentiful supply, and one of the best was a gild bronze, ivory and marble sculpture. It was signed D Chiparus, a Romanian artist who died in 1947. The ivory had no damage, and the contrast of ivory, bronze, and marble made a striking appearance. It was about 16 inches tall and sold for $19,520, just under its estimate.
Several small English wooden boxes had been consigned. A George III burlwood tea caddy sold for $732, and a satinwood and walnut caddy sold for a bargain $488. Probably the best of the bunch was a George III tortoise shell tea caddy with ivory banding. It had slight damage but still sold for $1,464, well above the estimate.
Ivory items were plentiful with possibly the most unusual being a Chinese pierced ivory lidded basket. It had multiple pierced panels, stood 7 inches high and 11 inches wide. Its finial was in the form of Buddha’s head. The estimate was $800-$1,000, and it sold for $3,416.
Buyers from around the world were not disappointed in this sale. The auction moved along smoothly and swiftly, even with the large number of Internet, phone, absentee and live bidders. A good time was had by all.
All prices include a 22 percent buyer’s premium.
For more information, visit www.lesliehindman.com or call 312-280-1212.
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