Optimism permeated the UK’s regional auction market across much of the last year.
Confirming the time-honoured ability of
auctioneers to attract vendors in a recession and buyers at a time
of low interest rates, the UK's top tier of regional salerooms
enjoyed a largely positive 12 months, with some achieving record
The January to December 2013 hammer total at
Woolley & Wallis - for some years now the UK's
largest regional saleroom - was £17.42m. This compares to £14.7m in
2012 (an increase of 18.5%) and precisely matches the figure posted
in 2011. The high-water mark at the Salisbury Salerooms of £23.36m
was seen in 2010 when £9m of a provincial record figure was
provided by just seven Chinese jades.
Chairman Paul Viney has done some
interesting number-crunching. "Of the 72 lots we sold in 2013 in
excess of £25,000, 52 were in the Asian art sales, accurately
reflecting the current buoyancy of the Chinese market. Of the
remainder, 15 were in the jewellery department (where natural salt
water pearls continued to perform very strongly).
"The pattern was repeated at the top end of
the market and of the 14 lots we sold in excess of £100,000, nine
were Chinese works of art and three were jewellery, while the other
two were a 1796 American half-cent coin which realised £185,000 in
January and a picture that we sold by private treaty."
W&W's top price of the year was the
£230,000 for a jade incense burner and cover sold in May - a
contrast to 2012 when a pair of pearl earrings sold for £1.4m.
"While it is always great fun to sell the headline-grabbing
£1m-plus lots [the auctioneers have sold nine of them], I find it
encouraging that this year our growth has been more organic and
across the departments, rather than being based on one or two mega
lots," said Mr Viney.
The seven-figure barrier has been passed 12
times by Britain's provincial salerooms since 2005 (when the very
first £1m-plus price was recorded in the UK regions), but not in
Dreweatts, part of The Fine
Art Auction Group (TFAAG), posted their highest price for some
years, and their highest to date in the Asian art market, when an
18th century Sino-Tibetan thangka took £450,000 at the firm's sale
marking their participation in the Asian Art in
London initiative in November (proof that the Chinese
market - now more circumspect and selective - continues to thrive
given the right conditions).
Two days later at Donnington Priory
Dreweatts achieved the top furniture price of the year outside
London when they sold a George II Irish mahogany side table for
These two lots late in the year took trading
across all four of Dreweatts' saleroom locations (Donnington
Priory, Bristol, Godalming and select events at the Mayfair
premises of Bloomsbury Auctions) to £12.9m. Equivalent sales in
2012 were £13.7m.
Dreweatts achieved the top furniture price
of the year outside London when they sold this George II Irish
mahogany side table for £185,000 at Donnington Priory in
A further £9.4m in sales at London books and
works-on-paper specialists Bloomsbury (who in
2012 posted sales of £8.8m) brought the aggregate figure to £22.3m
- on a par with the previous year.
Internationally, TFAAG have reopened a
franchise in Rome and have been heavily involved with two
ground-breaking sales held by the 21 members of the Association of
Accredited Auctioneers on Chinese soil.
But the major change in 2013 was, again, a
new parent company. Acquired by Noble Investments in 2012 (whose
stable includes Baldwin's and stamp specialists Apex) Noble
themselves were acquired by the Stanley Gibbons group in
How Stanley Gibbons will capitalise on their
enhanced business network, which stretches from the UK to Hong
Kong, Singapore and US, remains to be seen.
Hammer sales at Tennants
reached just over £12m - an impressive result the Leyburn firm
achieved in both 2010 and 2011. Sales had reached a record £14.1m
in 2012 when a Yongzheng blue and white bottle vase sold for
Managing director Jeremy Pattison pointed to
the strength in specialist markets - departments such as coins,
stamps, militaria, toys etc are performing very well - and to a
mood of confidence in the market among clients who see value for
money and "realise items purchased in the last five years are a
While technology is playing an important
role, said Mr Pattison, "it is worth mentioning we still have a
huge number of clients visiting the saleroom on view days but
checking catalogue descriptions and estimates on a smart phone or
To that end, building work on a new
extension continues apace (a topping out ceremony was held just
before Christmas) with plans to open in time for Le Grand
Départ - the opening stage of the Tour de France that visits
the north of England for the first time. The route takes the riders
within 200 yards of The Auction Centre.
Meanwhile it is business as usual with the
New Year already setting a stern pace - January 4's 'paper
catalogue' Country House sale bringing a record £330,000 from 1300
The three names that traditionally compete
for the position of the UK's highest-grossing regional auctioneer -
Woolley & Wallis, Tennants and Dreweatts - were joined in 2013
by jewellery and watch specialists Fellows of
Birmingham where sales again grew significantly.
Hammer sales were £12.1m, an increase of 11%
on 2012 when sales were £10.9m. Despite falling bullion prices -
from elevated positions gold was down roughly 70% and silver down
60% across the 12 months - year-on-year gains were seen across all
Fellows' departments with internet sales up by approximately
Director Stephen Whittaker told ATG the
firm's decade-long commitment to new technology is bearing fruit.
"This year's growth in turnover, over 20% above forecast, confirms
Fellows' position as a major force in the watch auction market. Our
investment in creating a rich online experience and our
collaboration with partner websites worldwide gives a global reach
in a company still small enough to care about the individual
Fellows' Vintage & Modern Wrist Watches
sale on January 20 will see the introduction of 360-degree
photographs to the firm's online catalogue descriptions. The photos
allow potential buyers to zoom in and spin the lot, examining the
dial, crown and case back of all watches in exceptional detail.
This new functionality should be rolled out for all Fellows'
specialist auctions later in the year.
Record at Sworders
January to December hammer sales at
Sworders of Stansted Mountfitchet in 2013 were
£7.15m, record figures that better previous highs of £6.51m and
£6.54m posted in 2012 and 2011.
Sworders' state-of-the-art premises - the
largest straw-bale structure in Europe - increased its footprint by
30% in 2013, allowing for some exceptional single-owner sales,
including the contents of Saling Hall and Debden Manor.
Managing director Guy Schooling told ATG the
focus would be on increasing the average lot price that (with the
regular weekly sales) was just over £255 from 28,000 lots in 2013.
"In 2014, we look forward to a more focused calendar with fewer but
higher quality sales - concentrating on delivering a high quality
service for all our clients."
The hammer total for 2013 at
Adam's of Dublin was €8.28m (£7.33m), up from
€7.2m the previous year. With around 60% of the total coming from
Irish art (the category registered an improvement of 12.5%),
managing director James O'Halloran told ATG that he expected the
greater activity in the Irish property market to lead to more
buying and selling next year.
While choice pieces of Irish Georgian
furniture also provided a significant contribution to the turnover,
the lot of the year at Adam's was Paul Henry's early figurative
painting The Potato Diggers which took €400,000 (£353,980)
Meanwhile, fellow Dublin saleroom de
Vere's posted a hammer total of €2.1m (£1.86m) for their
art sales only. They achieved the highest price of the year for a
painting sold at auction in Ireland, namely Walter Osborne's
The Ferry, which made €490,000 in November.
Whyte's of Dublin have also
released their results for 2013. They reported an annual hammer
turnover of €3.1m (£2.75m). Their top lot was Paul Henry's
painting The Lake from 1928 which took €93,000
(£82,300) in November.
Auctioneer Ian Whyte told ATG that some of
the artists whose prices were hit in the recession, such as Daniel
O'Neill and Gerard Dillon, saw real increases in value over 2013,
while confidence has remained in place for older Irish masters like
Jack Yeats, Sir William Orpen and Walter Osborne.
View from the SOFAA
Commenting on the wider marketplace
in her capacity as chairman of the Society of Fine Art Auctioneers,
Helen Carless of Lawrences of Crewkerne gave ATG
this brief summary of the feedback received from various SOFAA
"SOFAA's membership continues to
grow, which is indicative of the strength of the industry and the
high level of activity across the board. 2013 was a year which saw
the continuation of record-breaking prices from auctioneers outside
London, with Chinese pieces continuing to dominate the top end.
"One of the most encouraging signs was the
halt in the slide of 'brown furniture' prices. Hurrah! Jewellery
and silver continue strong despite fluctuating gold and silver
prices. Collectors' items continue their mass-market appeal and
help to bring less-experienced and younger buyers to the
There have been study days, conferences, visits to museums and
dinners and throughout all there has been a mood of optimism. As
the economy continues to recover in 2014, this will, I am sure, be
another good year for our members."