Special Report: 2012 in Review

By Antoinette Rahn

As we charge headlong into the second month of 2013, the antiques and collectibles community is already reporting several estimate-exceeding lots at auction, high praise and favor for fine and decorative art pieces and small signs of a possible rebound in the antique furniture market. In addition, upcycling and repurposing of antiques and collectibles continues to gain new fans and inspire the creation of clever, engaging and purposeful items.

With these early positives coming out of the antiques world, it is easy to look forward without as much as a glance back at 2012. The past year certainly brought challenges for many business sectors, including antiques, as well as ongoing stressors from global

1969 Sri Lankan sapphire by Van Cleef & Arpels, 43.16 carats, set a new world auction record when it sold for $1.56 million in November 2012. (Photo courtesy Bonhams)

economic impact. However, in reviewing the year-end reports we received from several auction houses, two of the antiques industry’s most advantageous traits — perseverance and the ability to diversify — helped to somewhat offset those challenges and bring forth positive results.

The result of diversifying auction offerings and business services is a “proof is in the pudding” scenario at Heritage Auction Galleries.

Leading the charge for Heritage in 2012 was its U.S. coin division recording $218 million in sales, Western and Texas Art accounting for more than $10 million in sales, comic book and comic art division posting record sales for the fourth year in a row and an increase of 17 percent over 2011, and sales of decorative arts growing by 32 percent to more than $7 million in 2012. All told, Heritage posted more than $860 million in total sales, making 2012 the fourth straight year of record sales for the Dallas-based auction company with offices throughout the United States, Europe and Hong Kong.

“Heritage is attracting new buyers across more categories than ever before,” said Steve Ivy, Co-Chairman and CEO of Heritage Auction Galleries. “Diversification has been key to our success.”

Two standout sales from Heritage’s popular comic book and comic art department at Heritage included:

• Todd McFarlane’s original cover art from “The Amazing Spider-Man” #328, which sold for $657,250.

• 1939 “Detective Comics” #27 (first appearance of Batman), which finished at $522,813.

The world of decorative arts, not unlike other areas of the antiques world, continues to see changing tides and global impacts, but by being adaptable and intuitive, auction houses were able to effectively serve emerging interests. While political and economic upheaval throughout Europe and the Middle East has caused the market for traditional 19th century Continental Decorative Arts to soften, good examples of 20th century design are selling well, according to Karen Rigdon, consignment director for Decorative Arts & Design, Silver and Vertu for Heritage Auction Galleries. This was evidenced in a 97 percent sell-through rate of Heritage’s 20th Century Design Auction, as well as several record-breaking sales of decorative Asian art pieces at Bonhams, including an 8th century Mon Dvaravati bronze sculpture for $674,500 and a fine large wood netsuke of a tiger, which fetched $137,361 – double its presale estimate.

Bonhams, with auction houses around the globe, reported more than 30 new auction records in 2012, including:

• 19th century sport-themed painting titled “Captain of Eleven,” which sold for $384,739 — exceeding the high estimate of $199,500.

• 1929-31 Bentley Supercharged ‘Blower’ Single-Seat car that fetched $6.7 million and became the most valuable British car sold at auction.

When asked to describe the antiques business of 2012, in just one word Nicholas Thorn, vice president of Litchfield County Auctions said: “Abundant.”

“After years of holding back, waiting for the economy to turn around, merchandise started flowing back into the market, as collectors decided it was safe to start trading again,” Thorn said. “For us this meant our largest number of items ever sold at auction, with our five sales each close to or above 1,000 lots, and our highest-grossing year ever, grossing nearly 1/3 more than years past.”

In relation to this promising state of business, Thorn also noted that like the economy, there is a shrinking middle class, thus the expensive items are getting more expensive at auction and the lower tier pieces are getting even lower.

1953, signed, gouache on paper laid on canvas, “Giocolieri e Cavallo” by Marino Marini, sold for $82,200. (Photo courtesy Litchfield County Auctions)

For example, a Marino Marini painting that sold for $40,000 in 2010 sold for $80,000 in 2012, he said.

Michaan’s Auctions of Alameda, Calif., had its share of record-setting auctions as well, including items from the Louis C. Tiffany collection from the Garden Museum of Japan, which realized more than $4 million in less than three hours. [See Antique Trader, Jan. 23, 2013, page 30, for more on the sale of the Garden Museum L.C. Tiffany collection sale.] A history-making event to be sure, the Tiffany auction was one example of the versatility of Michaan’s offerings in 2012. A painting by William H. Dunton, recently located after more than a century, became the star lot of Michaan’s Fine Works Auction in June when it sold for $234,000.

“Michaan’s Auctions is increasingly becoming a collector destination, as we have embraced fine oil paintings, sculpture, works on paper, prints and photography in our auction repertoire,” said Thomas De Doncker, fine art director for Michaan’s Auctions. This diversification has drawn both new consignors and active collectors from around the world.

As the year progresses, as an antiques and collectibles industry we are sure to see more record-setting sales, new developments and business expansion along with challenges, difficulties and setbacks. Yet, if 2012’s themes of diversification, adaptability and ingenuity carry through in 2013, forward progress may prevail.


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