Garth’s Auctioneers and Appraisers in Delaware, Ohio, auctioned an Ohio woman’s lifetime collection of American Indian jewelry on March 12. The 204-lot sale included necklaces, cuffs, rings, pendants, and belt buckles using turquoise from Battle Mountain (Nevada), coral, mother-of-pearl, jet, malachite, and abalone. Jewelry made by Native American artists Loren Thomas Begay, Albert and Dolly Banteah, Carol Kee, Raymond Quam, Wayne Silvers, Andy Lee Kirk, and others was on the block.
Amelia Jeffers, president of Garth’s, said in a presale press release, “While American Indian jewelry frequently comes to market with some degree of regularity, you don’t often see a lifetime collection that has been curated with this kind of interest and enthusiasm. She traveled throughout the West getting to know the artists’ families, and she learned to love the culture and traditions as well as the jewelry.”
About one-quarter of the auction con- sisted of the work of Andy Lee Kirk (Navajo, 1947-2001), and the top lot of the sale was a hand-formed 14k or 18k gold cuff bracelet by Kirk with individually set Battle Mountain turquoise cabo- chon stones. It realized $5400 (includes buyer’s premium); the estimate was $2500/4500. Garth’s said, “In Andy’s fifty-four short years, he became a brilliant jewelry maker and a nurturer of tradition and culture.”
When the consignor originally saw Kirk’s collection, she was “overwhelmed with the decision regarding which pieces to buy” and decided to purchase all of them. She reminisced about that trip, saying that “to watch Andy work was fascinating; his artistry was effortless.” AKirk earned a degree in biology from the University of New Mexico and stud- ied the basics of jewelry making there, continuing to make jewelry while work- ing first for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and then the Forest Service.
Eventually jewelry became his fulltime focus. Kirk began to win awards for his work. In 1996, he won the coveted Indian Arts and Crafts Association (IACA) art- ist of the year designation. He also won numerous awards at the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts (SWAIA) Indian Market including first place and best in division.
I spoke with Amelia Jeffers, who had taken the podium for the entire sale. She was emotionally involved from the start, putting the auction together with the Ohio woman, with whom Garth’s has enjoyed a relationship for many years. Jeffers was surprised that some of the Andy Lee Kirk items either passed or sold below estimates. “It was so well made. We really put a lot of effort into marketing that.” Garth’s showcased the sale in a YouTube video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iG9z68b4_j8), which features the consignor sharing information and telling stories about individual pieces she’d collected over a period of 30 years.
The consignor chose to attend the auction, even though Jeffers recommended against it. Jeffers had told her, “If it’s a train wreck, you’re going to be sad; it’s going to kill me as the auctioneer because I know you so well. If it is a success, you’re going to be happy and celebratory, and usually buyers don’t want to reward sellers—they see it as greed—that’s not going to go well.” The woman replied, “Amelia, win, lose, or draw, you guys have done an awesome job, and I wouldn’t miss seeing you sell this for the world.” She sat in the audience, and before the selling began, Garth’s played the YouTube video, and people said they had goose bumps.
“She was very involved—all our consignors are—in the descriptions and estimates. We always include them in the process. We went a little high on some of those estimates. We were probably aggressive. But at the end of the day, it took care of itself.”
Jeffers said it is important to include consignors in the sale because even though Garth’s, as an auction house, has developed an expertise in various markets, has jewelry experts on staff, and has sold a lot of American Indian jewelry, “...there’s nothing like the person who is out there, doing the homework, buying jewelry, looking it up—they always know infinitely more—I don’t care who the auction house is and what kind of degree the specialist has, these people who are digging in and spending their own money are the ones that really get to know” about what they are collecting.
Jeffers said there was strong Internet interest in this collection and a small audience in the room. For Americana, Asian, and European-based auctions Garth’s will generally have 75 to 100 folks in the audience, and “for a strong Americana sale we’ll get two or three hundred people.” Seeing the small audi- ence was initially a little nerve-rack- ing for Jeffers, but as the auction pro- gressed, she realized that “these were the right twenty-five folks, and they were all bidding. We had serious buyers in the audience. Some of the top pieces sold to the audience.”
Lots that go unsold are available for the low estimate after the auction. Jeffers said one of the Kirk bracelets that was passed had already sold by the time we spoke in the days after the sale.
When asked about how the jewelry market is faring, Jeffers answered, “Generally, I think it’s a pretty strong market right now. The only thing that’s hurting a little bit is that commodities prices are down. That’s a challenge, because, gosh, it was a lot more fun to sell silver when it was $40 an ounce—now it’s selling at $15—and when gold was pushing $2000, as opposed to $1100.” She said it’s hard to predict how the market will fare and that people want Garth’s to be “prognosticators of what’s happening or what’s coming. I don’t know that. It’s all based on consumer confidence. And consumer confidence seems to be pretty high right now, across the board.”
This was evidenced in the last two auctions at Garth’s, which “definitely saw a bull market on all points in the antiques market...and it was strength across all categories, which we haven’t seen in quite a while.... So, I’m cautiously optimistic.” Jeffers added that there have been swells and dips in the market “since 2008, the big crash that everybody references,” and that she is “starting to really see some traction in the recovery.”
Jeffers echoed what we have been reporting the last few months when she said, “The vintage jewelry market is really good right now.” She thinks that “Etsy and eBay have helped push the market a little bit, so it’s become a little bit of a cottage industry.”
Garth’s sells vintage and American Indian jewelry regularly at its Eclectic auctions. Its upcoming fine and vintage jewelry sale will be held on July 23. Check out the website in the weeks before to the auction for the online catalog at (www.garths.com).