Auctions in April and May
By Bruce McKinney
Around the world more than 35,000 lots of interesting books, manuscripts, ephemera, paintings and prints will be sold at traditional auctions over the next sixty days. Fifty three auction events in April and fifty-five in May are already scheduled and more events will be confirmed in the weeks ahead. There are 97 specific auctions, many of them multi-day affairs.
In April eighteen auctions are scheduled in the United States and another fifteen in May. This is 108 auctions over sixty days, a heady run of interesting and collectible materials. In truth, the relative strength of the auction markets favors Europe even more than a comparison of the number of auctions suggestions because European auctions are not only more frequent; they are also larger.
Only a few years ago the auction market seemed to be lagging the general population in its embrace of the internet. Today it is one of the strongest categories on line as both auction house and bidder have come to realize that material and information trump physical proximity. Of course expensive materials continue to warrant dealer confirmation and representation in the rooms but the trust threshold for bidding at auctions you only know about on line is rising. Only a year or two ago it was unusual to bid more than $500 on a single lot whose information was accessible primarily by internet. Today, and even as we speak, better auction documentation and better bidder research tools are changing traditional auction houses from essentially local businesses into national and in some cases international sellers. Familiarity, knowledge and safeguards are transforming this field, opening the bidding to a much larger community of active buyers.
With respect to the upcoming sales it is difficult to single out specific items and sales because there is so much material to consider. What is highly probable is that if you run free searches in the SEARCH and RESEARCH box on the AE home page periodically over the next two months you will find items to bid on. I can't say if the lots will be in London, New York, San Francisco, Paris, Dublin or elsewhere. They'll be interesting and well described. They'll be in different sales probably thousands of miles apart. What connects them is your unique perspective on what's important.
Every auction deserves to be singled out but it's simply not possible with so much material heading into the sales rooms. That said, the range of auctions suggests there are probably going to be several sales within a reasonable drive of your home so it may be possible to see a sale first hand. Simply attending one, particularly if you haven't attended a sale recently, is a good way to understand how the process is changing. Most auction houses now offer bidding by phone and some provide direct bidding via the internet. I use this option myself and believe it will become a standard in a few years. This said it's important to remember that bidders are expected to bid, not think. Even a painting that sells for twenty million dollars is going to be sold in 90 seconds. You need to do your thinking in advance and to decide how far you'll go before the item comes up. Whether in person, by phone, or on line you need to trust the system and move up to your limit as quickly as bids are called for. Auction houses overwhelmingly are honest. They have to be because good reputations are hard earned and easily lost.