Thursday, April 8, 2010

Thomas A Gray Auction Part II: "Price is what you pay. Value is what you get" - Warren Buffet

-Liz Morten

The history of price action is always fascinating.  EXTRAORDINARY POPULAR DELUSIONS and the Madness of Crowds/ Financial Panics and Manias, by Charles Mackay, is required reading for those of us obsessed with: “What’s Hot, What’s Not.”  Tom’s auction results demonstrated the strength in the rare Southern decorative arts market, and the weakness in New England collectibles. I see opportunity there, as I love deals—not that I won any bids. Outside of the box exceptions and flukes are really interesting, so here goes….  

A surprise (to little me) was a diminutive English bottle (lot #0128) dating 1717, with dark olive coloring measuring only 6 1/4” tall. This piece was bickered over for longer than its appearance belied. A $4,000.00 high estimate was nearly doubled and went for the rich price of $7,500. O.K., it apparently has a Benjamin Fredenham stamp. Who are these people? I have a late 18th century, Welsh pot cupboard, dominating my kitchen—for slightly less $$. I rearrange the shelves like my old FAO Schwarz doll house—at least I can play with it.

We really didn’t follow up on Tom’s rare Westerwald collection, which occupied 32 years of happy hunting. Rob Hunter ( of Ceramics in America, captured most of the important pieces, for either himself or clients.  Imagine compressing 32 years of work into a few hours—well worth the premiums. Of the 11 pieces, 4 were over high estimate and 7 were at least double. The big dog was lot # 0093 selling for $5,500, still less than the Fredenham bottle, above, go figure.

For the rugs, all I can say is: “you had to be there.” They did not translate well from the photographs, as the colors were luminous and the animals were charming, radiating love, hearth and home. A rare bias shirred basket of flowers, that had a high estimate of $10,000, evoked gasps when the bidding stopped at $38,000. 

That is a lot of money considering what $38,000 can buy.  With 20-20 hindsight, one could have had both the rare and important “Peaked Apron Group” flat cupboard, from North Carolina that surprisingly sold below low estimates for $14,000 and a stunning Virginia Chippendale desk and bookcase that sold for $18,000. Auctions are surprising for their excesses and their blind spots.

The real show stopper came near the end of the day. This is a cautionary tale for those of you who periodically purge your possessions and a smug moment for the pack rats of the world. An innocent looking 19th century Wachovia banknote check for $10.00, signed by Tom’s Grandfather had the modest high estimate of $500. With Wells Fargo (current owners of Wachovia) bidding aggressively in the front row, and a mystery bidder in the back, heads swiveled back and forth like center court at Wimbledon. Nobody saw 48 times high estimate looming on the horizon of this niche, specialty market. The gentleman in the back pulled a replay of Tony Montag’s bidding style, by merely holding up his card until the auctioneer said “sold”, for the astronomical price of $24,000. That is enough to send most of us shuffling madly through old files in the attic or basement!

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