Tuesday - 29 July 2014

Celtic auction bonanza

08 January 2007Written by ATG Reporter

Dublin and Edinburgh rooms all but double sales totals as Bonhams raise stakes in Scotland

Edinburgh auctioneers Lyon & Turnbull stole a march on their rivals last year, posting impressive sales figures of £11.5m from January to December 2006.

The hammer total was close to double the £6.2m posted in the same 12-month period in 2005 and represented the seventh consecutive year that turnover at Lyon & Turnbull has increased since five directors defected from Phillips to establish the company with chairman Sir Angus Grossart in 1999.

It has also been an eventful 12 months, including both the £3.2m sale of the Drambuie Collection in January and - buoyed up by an increasing number of consignments from England - the investment of £200,000 in a London consignment and viewing office in Pall Mall. The year ended with a £2.35m picture sale in December that included L.S. Lowry's 1947 Glasgow Docks, sold on behalf of the Fleming collection to a London buyer at £530,000, a new house record. In 2006, Lyon & Turnbull, who shelved general sales earlier this year in favour of two-tier catalogue sales, sold £6.3m worth of pictures alone.

The saleroom has two house sales in the pipeline for 2007, one in Scotland and another - the Keith Skeel Collection - to be conducted at Loudham Hall, Suffolk. The sale of items from Skeel's remarkable holdings of decorative antiques is expected to bring over £2m over three days in April. It is no surprise that Bonhams Edinburgh have decided to raise the competition by quitting their city centre rooms for a new auction centre in 2007 - probably further out but with good access.

Another business to show growth this year was The Fine Art Auction Group, parent company of the Dreweatt Neate and Neales salerooms, whose January to December sales were £18.1m, up from £16.1m in 2005. Unlike previous year-on-year increases ascribed to the acquisition of an established business, the 2006 figures reflected, in part, the benefits of increasingly specialised art and antiques sales.

But, as ever, securing single stellar consignments really made the difference. These included the windfall of a £400,000 house sale at Boarsney House, near Robertsbridge in East Sussex, and a pair of child portraits by Jean Baptiste Greuze, sold for £900,000 in February, a new landmark for a picture lot sold at auction outside London.

As reported in ATG No 1767, December 2, The Fine Art Auction Group are to introduce wide-ranging changes to their calendar in 2007. The former Hamptons salerooms in both Godalming and Marlborough will make the transition from saleroom to consignment offices with all major auctions to be held in Nottingham and Donnington Priory and general sale merchandise sold in Bristol. The move follows Bonhams' decision to revamp their provincial network through a series of amalgamations, closures and moves to new premises.

These moves to 'restructure' reflects the continued difficulties at the lower end of the market that last year saw the demise of half a dozen smaller rooms and halted the progress of some established 'big five' businesses.

In July, Tennants sold an exceptional burr walnut longcase, c.1740 by George Graham, for £135,000 - a provincial record for a clock - but total sales at the Auction Centre, Leyburn in 2006 were £8.25m, down from £8.8m in 2005 and record sales of £9.46m in 2004. Gains were seen in clocks, decorative arts and sporting trophies, but the year passed without a major single consignment of the type that had added heavily to the bottom line in the previous two years.

Woolley & Wallis published a turnover figure of £6.68m. The figure was predictably down from the £8.96m of the previous 12 months and the £7.37m achieved in 2004. However, lacking as it did a Yuan vase (£2.6m in 2005) or an Ashley Manor house sale (£1.1m in 2004), chairman Paul Viney described the year's work as "a quietly pleasing figure".

The Salisbury Salerooms became among the first provincial auctioneers to wholly abandon sales of low-value chattels to focus upon specialist sales of fine art and antiques. Fortnightly general sales, a fixture at the Castle Street salerooms for generations, ceased in October to allow for the ground-floor saleroom space to become available for expanding specialist departments.

Total sales at Gorringes in 2006 stood at £7.4m. This was down from £8.1m in 2005 when the aggregate across four salerooms had been boosted by the sale of John William Godward's £440,000 A Cool Retreat II.

This time next year the Sussex company hope to be trading from a regional auction centre in converted farm buildings in Cooksbridge, near Lewes, that should begin to take shape in the second half of 2007.

Meanwhile in Ireland, the three Dublin salerooms reported significant increases in turnover across the board.

The continuing growth of the Irish economy, with GDP running at 5.2 per cent, exceeded that of Britain last year. This has led to increased levels of private competition, producing some high returns especially in the field of post-War and Contemporary Irish art.

For 2006 Adam's reported a yearly hammer total of €17.5 (£12.4m), a rise of 90 per cent on the previous 12 months. This remarkable result was helped by their €5.9m (£4.2m) sale on December 5 in conjunction with Bonhams, setting a record total for an Irish sale taking place in Ireland. The sale will be reported in next week's ATG.

Dublin rivals Whyte's saw a 32 per cent rise in their annual total, up to €9.8 (£6.9m), although none of their sales were held in conjunction with any other firm. In all, they offered 1600 lots over the year, with an average selling rate of 83 per cent.

Also in Dublin, de Veres posted a premium-inclusive sales total of €7m (£5m), a rise of 11 per cent.

Exchange rate £1 = €1.41m

By Roland Arkell and Alex Capon

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