NEW YORK – A decade ago, Internet live bidding was primarily a resource favored by collectors of pop-culture memorabilia and more moderately priced merchandise. It was not the realm of high-end art buyers. Today, it’s an entirely different story. Internet bidders are paying record prices for paintings, investment-grade coins, estate jewelry and even classic cars. But no other type of vintage item purchased online lands in six-figure territory quite as frequently as Asian art and antiques.
“The demand in China, in particular, for rare and culturally important pieces is insatiable,
and wealthy Asia-based buyers are flexing their financial muscles to repatriate the art of their ancestors,” said Julian R. Ellison, CEO of LiveAuctioneers.
Ellison would know. His company’s platform has dominated the Internet-live-bidding sector since November of 2002 and is now the preferred online venue for buyers of Asian art. As their numbers have grown, so, too, have the prices they’re willing to pay.
For example, on May 12th a LiveAuctioneers bidder parted with $173,600 to own an antique white jade boulder carved to replicate figures on the path to a temple. A mere 4 inches tall, the Chinese treasure offered by Auction Gallery of the Palm Beaches of West Palm Beach, Florida, had been entered in the sale with a $15,000-$18,000 estimate.
Even more remarkable were the online results achieved on May 18th at an event conducted by Wichita Auctioneers of New York City. A 23½ inch-tall Ming Dynasty gilt-bronze figure of Avalokitesvara on a lotus base was purchased through LiveAuctioneers for $197,430.
The meteoric rise of Internet live bidding on top-tier art has not been lost on the pundits of Wall Street. They’re paying close attention to the booming business phenomenon. A June 15, 2014 Wall Street Journal article by Daniel Grant, titled “Why Auction Rooms Seem Empty These Days,” explored why art buyers worldwide have changed the ways in which they transact business, moving from traditional in-house bidding to remote, electronic methods.
In his article, Grant cites the globalization of art and collectibles markets, and the bidder preference for anonymity as being among the reasons for the marked increase in both online and phone bidding.
Collectors who opt to bid via LiveAuctioneers also do so because of its convenience. Online bidding eliminates the considerable time and expense required to travel to an auction, especially if it is located a hemisphere away.
Grant’s article quotes Leslie Hindman, founder of Chicago-based Leslie Hindman
Auctioneers Inc., as saying, “Whereas in the past we might have had only two bidders for a certain lot, now, because people all over the world find out about it and want to own it, we might have 10, and that definitely increases the prices.” More than 3,400 visitors viewed LiveAuctioneers’ online catalog for Hindman’s June 12 Asian Marketplace Auction, placing more than 300 absentee bids.
Just as compelling is the number of Asian-art items sold through LiveAuctioneers overall. Since January 1st of this year alone, 37,298 lots containing the words “Asian” or “Chinese” have changed hands through LiveAuctioneers.
“These numbers don’t lie. They show the power that LiveAuctioneers can bring to a sale because of our ability to attract high-quality repeat bidders. Our ‘front-row’ presence online and the effectiveness of our marketing strategies have a powerful effect on the revenues of companies that otherwise would not have a single Chinese bidder on their books. Six-figure prices for Asian art sold through LiveAuctioneers are no longer a shock. I believe Asian art’s winning streak will continue well into the future,” Ellison said.