It was the month the David and Peggy Rockefeller collection was dispersed at Christie’s, with its countless multi-estimate prices for traditional art and antiques, appearing like a curious anomaly rather than a shot in the arm.
The epic white-glove sale posted a new high for a single-owner collection at $832.6m (£612m). From Windsor chairs to Staffordshire pearlwares and Georgian silver candlesticks, American Dream prices were paid across 10 days of fevered selling that surely won’t be replicated for a generation or more.
Key elements of Napoleon Bonaparte’s ‘Marly Rouge’ dessert service made by Sèvres set a record for 19th century ceramics at £1.14m.
Closer to home, the trade was wrestling with the new EU rules on how organisations store and use personal data. The General Data Protection Regulation 2018 (better known as GDPR) finally passed into law on May 25 bringing a deluge of ‘opt in’ emails and the occasional doomsday prediction.
Ultimately, with most antiques enthusiasts happy to receive information from dealers, auctioneers and fair organisers, its potential impact on the trade may have been overstated. But it was a good chance to refresh the mailing list.
The effects of the EU-wide law banning all credit card surcharges have arguably been more palpable. Across 2018, auctioneers reacted to the new rules in different ways: by upping premiums, no longer taking credit card payments, reducing credit card limits or by absorbing the cost.
In the fairs’ world a long-running event changed owners – the three-day Bingley Hall Antiques Fair run by the Bowman family since 1978 is now under the IACF banner – while the venerable Antiquarian Booksellers Association Rare Books Fair had its inaugural edition at Battersea Evolution.
It was a bold move to leave behind the Olympia Exhibition Centre in West Kensington but a 20% increase in visitor numbers was reported and chairman Tony Fothergill hailed “new faces at the fair and a younger profile of visitor”.
Alfies and Alfayez
Elsewhere, Alfies Antique Market announced a new dedicated area to house “probably the UK’s largest permanent selling collection” of Middle Eastern art, antiques and design. Alfayez hosts 25 specialist dealers in the Church Street premises.
A rise in subscription costs prompted many dealers’ complaints to 1stdibs, the owner of the UK antiques portal Online Galleries. It said the price hike reflected a 250% increase of traffic to the site across five years.
Kensington Church Street dealer Simon Spero held the most successful exhibition of the month. Some collectors queued for two days to buy pieces from Spero’s personal collection of English blue and white porcelain, with most of the pieces sold within a matter of hours.
Spero later announced his intention to retire – an event marked by family, friends and clients at Bonhams in November.
Quote of the month
Millennials are suddenly looking at books and thinking ‘cool’ – today I’ve got about 12 people under 30 working here
Pom Harrington of Peter Harrington Rare Books on a welcome market trend as the ABA fair moves to Battersea
This rare James II ‘gunmoney’ half-crown sold for €10,500 (£8850) at Whyte’s in Dublin on May 5. These coins were issued to the forces of the deposed James II during the Williamite War in Ireland between 1689-91, typically minted in base metal but designed to be redeemed for silver coinage in the event of a Stuart victory – which never took place. This silver proof, probably struck in Dublin after the mint was captured, sold at £3500 (plus 20% buyer’s premium).
This 4½in (11cm) long Victorian lady lawn tennis player’s skirt lifter, c.1870s, sold for £3200 (plus 15% buyer’s premium) against an estimate of £75-100 at Graham Budd’s May 21-22 auction in London. Such items were used by Victorian women to clip up their full-length skirts, in this case above the lawn to avoid grass stains during games of tennis.
Carol Walker, who wrote the book A History and Guide to Collecting Ladies’ Antique Skirt Lifters, placed her final bid at £260 and told ATG: “I was amazed when the bidding reached £1000 and was absolutely flabbergasted when the hammer went down.”
An early Ming (Hongwu) Jun ware narcissus bowl, incised with a number one and carrying a label for the George Eumorfooulos collection, was bid to £240,000 at Duke’s (plus 25% buyer’s premium) of Dorchester on May 21. The valuation day find sold to a private collector in China.
A rare pair of Bow parrots c.1760 sold for the unexpected sum of £16,000 (plus 25% buyer’s premium) at Thomas Watson in County Durham. Modelled with distinctive puce-highlighted rococo scroll and shell ‘tree stump’ pedestal bases, they are particularly unusual as a pair.
Nu couché (sur le côté gauche), painted by Amedeo Modigliani in 1917, sold for $139m/£102.2m (plus 25/20/12.9% buyer’s premium) at Sotheby’s New York, setting the highest price in the firm’s history. Only one bidder was in contention for the piece at the Impressionist and Modern sale and it went below its estimate “in excess of $150m” – a significant shortfall on the auctioneer’s guarantee.