In what were far from easy trading conditions, the UK’s top tier of regional salerooms enjoyed a largely positive 2012.
Confirming the time-honoured ability of
auctioneers to attract vendors in a recession and buyers at a time
of low interest rates, solid - and even record sales figures -
The three names that traditionally compete
for the position of the UK's highest-grossing regional auctioneer -
Woolley & Wallis, Tennants and Dreweatts - were closely matched
in 2011. (Bonhams, whose regional sales are now conducted at
salerooms in Oxford, Chester and Edinburgh, declined to give
specific details of provincial sales.) Sales at jewellery and watch
specialists Fellows continued to grow significantly.
The January to December 2012 hammer total at
Woolley & Wallis was £14.7m. This
compares to £17.44m in 2011 and the high water mark of £23.36m in
2010 when £9m of a provincial record figure was provided by just
seven Chinese jades.
Chairman Paul Viney said the 15.8%
year-on-year fall was seen in the Asian art department where
turnover was £5m in 2012 as opposed to £10.1m in 2011. "If you take
Asian art (which will always be dependent on a few high-ticket
items) out of the equation, our 2012 turnover was 32% up on 2011,
which I'm delighted with," he told ATG.
Five departments had a turnover in excess of
£1m - Asian art (£5.1m), jewellery (£3.5m), silver (£1.9m),
decorative arts (£1.5m), pictures (£1.2m) and furniture (£1.2m).
Outstanding among these was jewellery, which had a sensational year
with turnover up 55% (£1.59m in 2011) even without the sale of a pair of
pearl earrings for £1.4m in April.
But this was not the highest price of the
At Tennants of Leyburn, sales reached £14.1m, a
significant increase on the previous £12m record figure, posted in
both 2011 and 2010. An already positive year was given a fillip by
a new house record in November when a Yongzheng (1722-36) mark and
period blue and white bottle vase shot to £2.6m.
It was proof that the Chinese market - more
circumspect and selective in 2012 than it had been in previous
years - continues to thrive given the right conditions.
Above: the £2.6m Yongzheng bottle vase
that sold at Tennants.
The hammer price matched that bid for a 14th
century Yuan dynasty porcelain double-gourd vase sold by Woolley
& Wallis in July 2005 (the very first £1m-plus price in the UK
regions), now represents the 12th time the seven-figure barrier has
been passed by Britain's provincial salerooms.
A new management structure at Tennants has
seen proprietor Rodney Tennant pass the day-to-day running of the
business to a fourth generation. His three daughters, Alison, Jane
and Caroline, were made directors of the business in 2012, while
plans to expand the Auction Centre are currently out to tender. The
New Year began in strong fashion with a £265,000 uncatalogued sale
of country house furnishings on January 4.
The Fine Art Auction Group, who in December
were acquired by Noble Investments, reported 2012 hammer sales at
£13.7m. Achieved without the benefit of a six- or seven-figure
'windfall' lot, this included solid trading in all four of its
saleroom locations: Donnington Priory, Bristol, Godalming and
select events at the Mayfair premises of Bloomsbury Auctions.
A further £8.8m in sales at London books and
works on paper specialists Bloomsbury brought the aggregate figure to
£22.5m (in 2011 TFAAG reported premium-inclusive sales of £27.4m
across its three auction houses: Dreweatts, Bloomsbury and
Chairman Stephan Ludwig told ATG the focus
for 2013 would be to maintain the momentum achieved in the 18
months since the two firms merged in June 2011, but he anticipates
TFAAG's inclusion in the Noble stable alongside coin specialist Baldwins and
stamp auctioneers Apex Philatelic, will create new opportunities
- "as, no doubt, will our newfound status as the only UK Stock
Exchange-listed auctioneer of antiques, art and collectables."
Internationally, TFAAG are reopening a
Bloomsbury Auctions franchise in Rome and expect to be heavily
involved with the first 'Western antiques and works of art' auction
in China, held in the Xiamen Freeport this April.
Expansion in Essex
Work is under way to extend Sworders'
state-of-the-art premises - a strong indication of a decent trading
year in Stansted Mountfitchet. Expansion and the continued
development of online bidding, mean that the four-year-old building
- already the largest straw-bale structure in Europe - has
increased its footprint by 30%.
January to December sales in 2012 were
£6.51m, almost matching the Sworders' record take of £6.54m posted
in 2011. The specialist sales were up on 2011 but the weekly sales
in the second half of the year dropped quite significantly, which
was the underlying cause of the fall.
Managing director Guy Schooling told ATG:
"2011 was easily our best ever year, so we are delighted to match
the total turnover under difficult trading conditions in 2012.
Prior to the Olympics, our weekly sales were as busy as they had
ever been; however, these sales tailed off significantly once the
Olympics got under way, and never recovered."
He nonetheless looks forward to 2013 with
considerable optimism having already secured "several outstanding
The need to turn assets into cash in times
of economic travail brought some surprisingly good consignments to
the block in Ireland. There was solid demand for 'blue-chip' fine
art names: the top price for the year at Adams of Dublin
being Louis Le Brocquy's Procession with
Lilies consigned by Independent News and Media and sold
to a private Irish collector for €320,000.
Managing director James O'Halloran
considered 2012 a "relatively good year" with total hammer sales of
€7.2m and selling rates for Irish art averaging 80%. Brown
furniture remained "stubbornly hard to shift at any price" (average
selling rates for furniture and chattels slipped to 74%), but
silver had seen a resurgence and biannual jewellery sales had been
a significant new source of revenue.
"The demand for anything high quality is
still as strong as ever," he said.
The continuing strength of gold and silver
prices helped sustain demand for precious stones and other forms of
portable wealth at Fellows of Birmingham, where the hammer total
was £10.9m. In 2011 they had been a fraction over £10m, itself a
27% growth on 2010.
Much of the 9% year-on-year gain in 2012
came in the watch department (where business was up by around a
quarter) and a busy calendar of close to 70 sales (even more are
planned for 2013). But director Stephen Whittaker echoed others
when he said business had been patchy. From the onset of the
Jubilee celebrations to the close of the Paralympics, consignment
rates had slowed - the Great Summer of Sport proving a
The View from the
Commenting on the wider marketplace in his
capacity as chairman of the Society of Fine Art Auctioneers, Paul
Viney gaveATGthis brief summary of the feedback received from
various SOFAA members.
1. For most salerooms 2012 was a pleasingly
satisfactory year, if not exceptional.
2. One or two have commented that the brown
furniture market may finally be showing signs of awakening from its
slumbers of the last few years, but it's too early to be sure.
3. Middle-range Chinese items seem to have
plateaued but for the very best pieces prices are still
4. As well as wine, the Chinese have shown
interest in jewellery, clocks and mechanical objects.
5. Silver and jewellery both performed
strongly over the year.
6. The old adage of 'the best is the easiest
to sell' remains a truism.
7. Most members were surprisingly optimistic about the prospects
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.