Auction Update Review

Nopreview

On the Slopes of the Himalayas

Sunday January 9th, 2011

The spring approaches, the season never ends.

The seamless progression of sales in 2010 continues as we head into 2011.  It's not so much that the schedule of sales is already heavy.  Rather it's that even in December the number of identified events for 2011 was already almost a hundred.  It suggests we may see five hundred events this year.  If so this will be an auction, on the average, every sixteen hours.

They will not occur like that however.  Because there always seem to be more auction events it has become good strategy to claim dates early.  Planting the flag does not preclude other houses from running a sale on the same day but houses often will try to avoid sharing the audience with other houses.  Undivided attention is always a good idea.  Going forward this will become more difficult.

The real estate of timing in December is the most valuable although many months and seasons are important.  The ABAA and ILAB events attract sales as do coastal towns in summer.  When sales are important they also need important dates.  Getting stacked in busy periods can turn a $1,000 book into a $500 bargain.  As Sotheby's proved last December however with its sales the second week of December if you have great material you also get great attention.  All auctions of course hope to offer this type of material but day in and day out the rooms are full of very good if not always spell-binding lots whose primary appeal will be value rather than absolute uniqueness.  These lots need some space to be seen and appreciated.  Hence we are seeing schedules begin to be laid out, if not in ball point pen, then in pencil.  Dates and auction themes change but more and more the calendar is filling in.

I think it's inevitable that 2011 will be important for both auctions and the field.  The number of lots will slowly increase over the next five years or it is going to surge down the road and undermine prices significantly.  Too much material will have to be sold and, because listing sites are resistant to strategies that identify material by listing time [in months and years], auctions are going to be doing the heavy lifting.  It need not be this way.

If even one listing site adopted the strategy of identifying material by date listed, tracked price changes, and refused to let those listing remove this history we would start to see wholesale adjustment in prices that would mimic what's happening in the rooms.

It won't happen - because listing sites are enablers, slaves dependent on those who list and currently there are not yet enough sellers focused on what is ahead to support such a strategy.  Instead, sellers who become impatient shift to eBay where realizations are certainly no more than 30% of listing site asking prices.

So 2011 will be a complex year - even for those with the wind at their back - as evidenced by Bloomsbury's decision to curtail New York operations, the victim of high rents and operating expenses.  Auctions will always be the imprecise combination of good economy,good material, good people and for some time to come good location.  Bloomsbury acquired exceptional space at the top of the real estate boom and was caught with too much expense.  They had the talent.  Next time around, they or others will have the timing. 

That prospects for the field are strong and nevertheless there is retrenchment suggests the road ahead may lead to an improving market but never be easy.

We have archived fourteen sales, most from the final two weeks of December.

Bruce McKinney
AE


 
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