Regional auction houses rival big-city sales
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A river tinted with the pinks and yellows of sunset, portrayed in an oil-on-canvas by Martin Johnson Heade: $1 million.
A rustic, milky portrait of a woman in white by Korean artist Park Soo Keun: $460,000.
A clock that once marked the time for the John Quincy Adams family: $80,000.
An ornate, intricately-carved Chinese rosewood marble-top table: $46,000.
All these pieces — from American rustic, to furniture fit for a manor, to museum-worthy canvases — were vetted, fought over, and ultimately sold at auction. But not in some stereotypically stuffy, exclusive gallery with a formal dress code: These were sold from an unassuming storefront in downtown Amesbury.
“A lot of regional auction houses have proved that they don’t have to be in New York City,” said longtime auctioneer John McInnis, who sold these varied items through his self-named auction house, housed in what once was a grocery store and sandwiched between boutiques, jewelers, and salons on Amesbury’s Main Street. “We can do just as good a job.”
Enabled by the Internet, auction houses tucked away in the suburbs have become premiere destinations for international fine art, antiques, and other sundry collectibles — whether crafted five or 500 years ago — allowing those businesses to rival their big-city counterparts.
“You don’t have to bring [an item] to Sotheby’s and Christie’s anymore,” said Diane Riva, marketing director at Beverly-based Kaminski Auctions. The market has shifted so that “even a small house can have a wonderful piece and reach a broader market.”
From Amesbury, McInnis sells items from all over the world and from various epochs: Ford Model A’s, grand pianos, paintings picked up for a few bucks at Goodwill, some of which have snagged upwards of $100,000.
An Asian-themed auction in March brought in just shy of $1 million, and attracted more than 900 in-person, telephone, and Internet bidders from all over the world. The Park Soo Keun painting, meanwhile, spurred several prospective buyers to fly in from Korea. And a two-day auction in July of an expansive antique doll collection drew roughly 10,000 page views to McInnis’s online catalog, with Internet bidders hailing from more than 15 countries.
The auction house recently secured the estate of David Powers, special assistant to John F. Kennedy and curator of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, and also has items such as signed Andy Warhol originals, rare Persian fabric, and a Japanese flag captured on Okinawa during World War II that will soon hit the block.
As McInnis noted, New York (or any other metropolis, for that matter) is “not necessarily where the market is.”
It’s wherever the coveted item happens to be.
“It’s the stuff that’s the attraction,” he said. “If you got the right item, they’ll come.”
Well, at least virtually.
Tonya A. Cameron of Wakefield-based TAC Auctions Inc. said that as Internet bidding grows, fewer buyers are actually present at the auctions.
“We used to have more live bodies in the house,” said Cameron, who specializes in estates, antiques, and decorative arts. “In five years, you’re going to see that a lot of auctions will be really ghostly. We won’t have very many in-house buyers.”
Still, McInnis said, wherever the buyers are, the basic principle remains: “old-fashioned competitive bidding.”
That is precisely what prospective buyers were preparing for as they silently and methodically analyzed and catalogued items at a preview of McInnis’s mid-July doll auction.
Boasting roughly 4,000 dolls (along with a plethora of pint-sized accessories, clothes, and furniture), it was the lifetime collection of the late Texan Kathy L. Hipp, and was worth between $200,000 and $500,000, McInnis estimated. (One of its rarer pieces, a Lucille Ball bride doll dating to 1955 and designed by the famed Madame Alexander, ended up selling for just over $10,000).
In the Amesbury gallery — with “Hello Dolly!” fittingly piped in from overhead speakers — cloth, plastic, and porcelain figures were arranged on stands, behind cases, on tables, or beside their protective boxes, tags dangling from tiny wrists. There were Barbies and Kens, Kewpies and Alexanders. There were dolls that were seated, standing, empty-eyed, stiff-armed, and dressed in tutus, wedding dresses, and Snow White outfits.
Sandals, patent leather shoes, ice skates, ballerina slippers, and moccasins fit for tiny feet were laid out neatly in pairs on one table; various hats for different sized heads were on another.
“It’s amazing to see the history, the progression as you go,” Gretchen Moos of Ludlow marveled as she browsed. Dolls offer their own history lesson, she said, and ultimately “tell a story.”Continued...