Overall sales figures for art and antiques salerooms outside London were largely down for 2008 – but most ended a difficult year with better than expected results. For a table of the provincial salerooms' totals click here.
Many remain optimistic that the market for traditional art and
antiques, already subject to a decade of seismic change, is
relatively well placed to survive the economic gloom forecast for
Edinburgh-based auctioneers Lyon & Turnbull
were alone among the major provincial sales in seeing their sales
figures rise significantly in the period January to December 2008.
Their hammer turnover was £14.1m - a substantial stride forward
from the £10.8m in 2007 and their previous record year of 2006 when
sales hit £11.5m.
In an often cautious marketplace, the firm played some of the
bolder moves of 2008: the implementation of a 25 per cent buyer's
premium at fine and specialist sales; the launch of Lyon &
Turnbull South with new appointments working in the South East of
England (a move somewhat curtailed by the autumn) and a number of
sales at English venues.
Not all these endeavours were successful - selling rates in some
categories have been disappointing - but this enterprise was
rewarded with an £850,000 sale of the Deloitte art collection at
the Royal Academy in January and, most notably, the £4.6m dispersal
of the Chen collection of Russian works of art and English silver
at the Caledonian Club in Belgravia in November.
L&T's vice chairman Paul Roberts said he had been delighted
by the figures - it had, he said, also been a profitable 12 months
- and was encouraged by consignments for 2009.
In the pipeline is a sale in April at Blenheim Palace in
Oxfordshire, a prestigious venue that the auctioneers say has
proved attractive to vendors. The likelihood is that the second
part of the Chen sale, which includes Viennese enamels, rock
crystal and Asian works of art, will be offered alongside the
But Mr Roberts says he is apprehensive about the coming year and
does not expect a repeat performance. "The Chen sales, if you can
get them, are fine but the rest of the market is very challenging.
We are having to double the refining process."
The hammer turnover for 2008 sales at Woolley &
Wallis was £6.7m. This compares to £8.15m in 2007, when
the Salisbury firm sold two collections (How and Nolte), which
account for the difference. Their top selling lot in 2008 was a
pair of 17th century marines by the Dutch artist Abraham Janxz
Storck, which sold in October for £135,000.
Despite the fall in turnover, chairman Paul Viney told ATG that
profitability had increased - in part a reflection of an increase
in buyer's premium to 19.5 per cent from September 1 - and he is
quietly confident of a solid forthcoming year.
Already consigned for the spring are two single-owner
collections of silver scheduled for the spring as well as the
eclectic collection of the late Lord Parmoor, which will be a
stand-alone sale in February.
From January to December 2008 Tennants of
Leyburn posted total hammer sales of £8.8m, compared to record
figures of £10m in 2007. Adam Schoon, in charge of the North
Yorkshire saleroom's catalogued events, said the economy is
undoubtedly harder, but he also noted that, in a market that
rewards the best at the expense of the average, securing
spectacular one-off entries can make the difference between an
indifferent and a good year.
In 2008 the firm's highest bid was a relatively modest £65,000,
taken in November for the taxidermy head of a white rhino.
In 2007 Duke's of Dorchester had posted sales
of £7.5m aided by the £1.7m generated by two rediscovered panels
from Fra Angelico's celebrated 1438-40 high altarpiece for the
Church of San Marco. A repeat of record figures was not expected
and partner Guy Schwinge believes comparison between 2008 and 2006
presents a fairer reflection of what one might term "normal
Helped by the collection of Chinese works of art accumulated by
East India Company employee John Reeves on his arrival in Canton in
1812 - including a £130,000 Qianlong or Jiaqing white jade altar
set - Duke's achieved a total turnover of just over £4.5m and
managed to maintain margins. This total includes the private treaty
sale of an important piece of English furniture for a substantial
Mr Schwinge anticipates 2009 will present a challenging
operating environment, but remains upbeat. "At times like this
people often focus on their homes. Bland minimalism seems to be
giving away to a more furnished 'look' and we expect the wider
market may come to realise just how reasonably priced 'brown'
furniture has become."
Interestingly, in a year when many leading country auctioneers
have ceased 'general' sales, Duke's secondary location, which
operates from a modern factory building, has seen turnover rise by
40 per cent.
Duke's first auction for 2009 on February 5-6 will include
consignments from two of the great West Country houses - Montacute
in Somerset and Dyrham Park in Gloucestershire. The sale will
include an historically important set of mid 17th century pewter
chargers from Newton Surmaville Manor in Somerset, which have not
left the house for almost 350 years. They are estimated to fetch up
Gorringes' sales in 2008 stood at £6.7m, down
£1.1m on the previous 12 months. This reflected the absence of
major consignments sold in Lewes, although Clifford Lansbury said
it had been a good year for 'referrals'. The auctioneers still take
the view that vendors of merchandise meriting top international
exposure are best served in London and have sold close to £2.5m
through the metropolitan rooms.
Their plans for a regional 'selling centre' in Cooksbridge, near
Lewes, announced at the end of 2006, were abandoned in favour of an
overhaul of their existing galleries. The £250,000 refurbishment at
Lewes, including the installation of underfloor heating and a new
café, is very near completion.
For only the second time, Bonhams have released
details of art and antiques sales in the UK regions, posting
premium-inclusive sales of £24.7m. They did not release a hammer
total, so that can only be estimated.
The figure excludes the value of lots sourced in the regions for
the company's salerooms in London and around the world, and also
excludes all regional car and motorcycle sales. This compares with
a premium-inclusive figure of £27.9m in 2007.
Company chairman Robert Brooks issued the following statement:
"The headline figure is slightly down on last year, however when
allowance is made for the relocation and extensive redevelopment of
saleroom sites in Edinburgh and Oxford in particular - which now
offer more space and better client facilities - we are tracking
broadly in line with 2007 figures.
"In spite of the anticipated downturn in the economy, we have
restructured and invested heavily in our regional network and
salerooms throughout 2008, which demonstrates our commitment to
this model. Although the disruption brought with it periods when we
were unable to hold sales at some of our rooms, the development
phase is now complete and we look forward to a full calendar of
sales throughout Bonhams' restructured regional saleroom network in
2009 and beyond."
Sales are now held at Knowle, Bath, Bury St Edmunds, Par,
Oxford, Chester, Honiton, Edinburgh and Leeds. New premises opened
last year on Queen Street in Edinburgh and the auctioneers are
currently refurbishing new Oxford premises to the north of the
city, a former car showroom in Shipton-on-Cherwell.
Total sales recorded by the Dreweatts group,
who sell from permanent salerooms in Nottingham, Donnington Priory,
Bristol and occasionally Godalming, were £16.5m, just under ten per
cent down on the previous year when sales of £18.3m were recorded.
The figure includes private treaty transactions of £150,000.
Dreweatt's executive chairman Stephan Ludwig conceded the
downturn in the global economy had a negative impact on turnover in
the latter months of 2008, but the group's continued focus on
increasing the quality of merchandise saw 54,000 lots sold across
the year, representing an average lot value of £305 and an unsold
rate of 22.9 per cent. These compared with £287 and 23.5 per cent
Dreweatt's newly formed Urban Art department conducted two
auctions in Shoreditch in 2008: one lively £667,500 event in June
and one more muted affair in October as the market became more
nervous. In February the firm will hold the first ever sale of
artwork relating to 21 years of the 'free party' and 'rave' culture
The more general feeling across Britain's auctioneers is that
the various facets of the contemporary market will lose momentum in
2008. But most expect the traditional antiques market upon which
regional salerooms largely rely to be more stable - primarily
because so many categories have already experienced major price
A stagnant property market is also helping to support prices by
curtailing the supply of stock chattels at auction, while there is
some optimism that a period of belt tightening in the general
economy could be a shot in the arm for the secondhand furniture
market that is the bread and butter of many local salerooms.
Other positives include increased footfall at many sales and the
continued strength of specialist events.
Dreweatts posted two of the highest provincial prices of the
year for a Louis XIV boulle commode attributed to Nicolas Sageot
(sold for £155,000 in July) and a Fabergé enamel clock (£160,000 in
However - not forgetting the extraordinary case of the £2.8m
Fatimid rock crystal ewer that appeared at Lawrences of Crewkerne
in January and then at Christie's in October - the accolade for the
highest-priced work of art sold outside London in 2008 falls to one
of the UK's smaller concerns.
Isle of Wight firm Island Auction Rooms established a new record
for a clock sold by a provincial auctioneer when a boulle longcase
with year-going striking movement by Daniel Quare took £240,000 in
By Roland Arkell
Antiques Trade Gazette is the weekly bible of the fine art and antiques industry. Read articles like this every week in the Antiques Trade Gazette or ATG app. Click here to subscribe today.