After the January 29 and 30 sale held by Garth’s Auctions in Delaware, Ohio, in which the material offered ran the gamut from Asian and Continental arts to country Americana, Garth’s president, Amelia Jeffers, noted that people didn’t bid if they had no interest in the goods.
That makes sense. The same has been heard from other auction houses, and yet, that’s the deal. People have become more particular, whether at Garth’s or elsewhere. It’s a market running hot or cold. If buyers want something, they tend to be all in. There are fewer bidders these days lurking at the fringes, grabbing something just because of a low price rather than for the chest-aching desire to own something.
Nowhere in Garth’s sale was that up-or-down attitude more apparent than with the Asian material, where a Chinese altar coffer realized $66,000 (including buyer’s premium) against an estimate of $20,000/40,000. “There had been a lot of interest in this table,” said Jeffers. The bidding bore that out; there really wasn’t a chance it would go unsold.
The next-best item sold in the Asian arts session was a Chinese gilt bronze statue of Sakyamuni Buddha, which brought $16,250. It toed a little closer to the low side, but still it sold within estimate. “It came with a fair amount of high-end things with high reserves,” said Jeffers.
For many lots, that was the killer. “On the highest-end items, we missed on high reserves,” added Jeffers. Those included an 18th-/19th-century white nephrite jade archaistic covered vase estimated at $100,000/150,000 and an 18th-/19th-century carved Chinese jadeite hanging lidded vase estimated at $60,000/80,000.
Some of the unsold lots had been acquired at New York auctions in the recent past. “There was a hopefulness that the market had grown since they purchased [those items] in New York, but not so much,” Jeffers noted.
The furious and quick price escalation of Asian material over recent years was likely to stop at some point. This might have been it. “You can’t maintain that crazy high forever,” Jeffers said. “There does seem to be a little bit of a pullback.”
It’s not just a matter of buyers sitting on their hands. Some sellers share responsibility in what has happened of late. “It is one hundred percent a reserve equation,” said Jeffers. “On ninety percent of that auction, we had coverage and a lot of interest from all over…. It was good stuff. It was right stuff.”
Of course, a second opinion never hurts. “It is a tough market to know, and I have worked hard to educate myself, but there’s nothing like asking a buyer who knows the market, when they’re standing in front of the stuff, ‘What do you think?’, Jeffers asked. Knowledgeable people told her two things: 1) it’s great stuff, and 2) it’s too much. Regarding the latter, they meant the reserves, which were reflected in the strong estimates.
Many of the Asian objects had reserves, and in January in central Ohio, potential bidders had had enough. In the room and via an active Internet, they often sat on their hands. At times, item after item after item went unsold. The reason? “A lot of reserves,” said Jeffers.
That wasn’t the case with the Americana portion of the auction, Garth’s bread and butter. A ridiculously nice stoneware crock incised “July 6 1839 / L.D. Owen Ohio” above a bird and flowers within a scalloped wreath, all with cobalt accents, estimated at $2500/3500, realized $19,200 despite damage.
“Damage, schmamage,” bidders seemed to say. After all, the crock was from Ohio, and it was early, dated, and decorated. “What’s not to love, right? It’s just a screamer, and, condition notwithstanding, there was a ton of interest,” said Jeffers.
That piece of stoneware also suggested something else, she noted: great material doesn’t need a specialized auction to bring impressive prices. “I say this would have brought that if it had sold out of the back of a truck in Morgantown, West Virginia,” Jeffers said. The crock made an impact, she added, benefiting other stoneware and Americana in the sale—the concept that a rising tide lifts all boats.
Other material in the Americana section included a $6900 burl bowl, which Jeffers described as having nice form and great burl. “There’s nothing like a burl bowl with lots of natural oil and patina. It’s right in our sweet spot.”
In the middle, between Asia and the New World, the items that sold were as diverse as a 12½" high x 17" long late 19th- or early 20th-century Meissen figure of Mercury seated in a chariot pulled by ravens, with restoration, at $5700, and a 10¼" high mid-20th century Danish sterling silver two-light candelabrum by Johan Rohde for Georg Jensen, the naturalistic motif with branches, buds, and berries, at $3900.
Despite the hiccups of passed lots during the Asian arts session, it was a good sale, according to Jeffers. “I was pleased with it overall,” she said. “I thought it was a great auction.”
For more information, contact Garth’s at (740) 362-4771; website (www.garths.com).
First appeared in Maine Antique Digest, Jan. 2015.