“I’m an American citizen but regard myself as dual nationality, with family back in Scotland,” Nichol says. “When I meet viewers of Antiques Roadshow on PBS – watched by up to eight million people a week - they seem to recognise me by my voice first.”
The firm also has a 20-year relationship with Lyon & Turnbull in Edinburgh. The partnership is “so much more than ‘we’ll show yours if you show ours,” Nichols says. He points to a shared president, Paul Roberts, cooperation on sales such as the £3.6m Thornhill Xuande stem cup in Hong Kong in 2016 and the twice-yearly print publication International View.
Both firms’ websites and catalogue app were redeveloped together and have the same look and feel, down to the font used.
Objects and experts cross the Atlantic, in both directions. In 2013, a one-of-a-kind American mechanical toy bank, known as the ‘Coasting Bank’, was found in a loft in Peebles, in the Scottish Borders. Moved by Lyon & Turnbull for sale in Philadelphia, the bank, estimated at $30,000-50,000 brought $220,000 (£143,790) plus premium at Freeman’s.
The international dimension
“We’re one of the few US regional auction houses that has an international dimension to it,” says Nichol. Freeman’s will soon look to capture new overseas bidders by putting sales on the-saleroom.com, a move that makes sense to Nichol, given the firm’s strengths in key European collecting areas.
“If you’re having an Old Masters or European art sale, a lot of your buyers are going to be overseas. The markets for Americana and Pennsylvania Impressionists, which we’re on top of, may be local but given the breadth of our consignments, it makes sense to reach out more internationally.”
Tom McCabe, a senior vice-president of Freeman’s and the firm’s technology lead, picks up the theme. “Our client base is good but there are millions more people who collect and we need to reach them,” he says.
Freeman’s is not “the first out of the gate” with advanced technology, McCabe says. “Our billion-dollar competitors are doing the most progressive things in areas like search and virtual reality. Being a lot smaller, we can watch and learn, and iterate with the tools that are out there.”
Following Lyon & Turnbull’s lead, Freeman’s is having a new, more flexible database system developed to connect with freemansauction.com.
A key goal is to deliver more targeted communications about forthcoming lots. “Our collector bidders are very internet-savvy and know how to research the object they’re after,” says McCabe. “But our new database will be a lot more people- as well object-focused to help us personalise the experience.”