The Arader Sale: Learning the Hard Way
Lot 81, Natural History makes history.
The Arader auction of maps, rare books and natural history engravings, watercolors and color plate books at Guernsey’s on December 5th has come and gone and the sale, much discussed ahead, is now the sale much dissected. It was both a flagship success and a serious failure depending on your perspective. It was a success because it raised two million dollars. It was a failure because the total low estimate of all lots was $12 million. It was arguably three sales and two events [morning and afternoon sessions], divided 46%/54% between unreserved and reserved lots. One hundred and thirty-three lots sold, 108 with estimates of $10,000 and less, 25 of the remaining 161 lots with estimates over $10,000.
The sale was conducted by Guernsey’s on behalf of and on the premises of Arader Galleries at their 1016 Madison Avenue New York location.
The 294 lots were divided in 5 categories –
Audubon Plates and Books. 82 lots offered and 70 sold
Natural History. 68 lots offered and 21 sold
Maps, Globes and Atlases. 52 lots offered and 13 sold
New York Views and Maps. 60 lots offered and 20 lots sold
American and European Oil Paintings. 32 lots offered and 9 sold
In the weekly auction report issued by AE on – for the week ending December 8th this sale ranked 3rd by dollar volume among the 38 sales archived - $2,258,342. By another measure however it was disappointing. The total of the low estimates of all 294 lots was $12,803,000, the sale as a percentage of the total high estimate, a number we track across all completed sales every week, 17.6%, an extremely low percentage. Auctions routinely sell 70% to 75%.
In some respects the sale was unique. It was essentially a store sale conducted as an auction. To do this a catalogue under the auspices of Guernsey’s was issued. In it the Arader Gallery identified material and provided estimates that, for most lots with high estimates greater than $10,000, turned out to be more than bidders were prepared to pay.
The Arader Sale: Learning the Hard Way
Lot 134: Artic Glow - Snow Owls. 53 1/2 x 35 1/2". $85,400.00.
Some expensive material did sell:
Lot 81. John James Audubon’s Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America. Estimated at $600,000 to $700,000 it brought $793,000
Lot 138E. John Gould’s and Richard Bowdler Sharpe’s The Birds of Asia. Estimated at $140,000 to $180,000 it brought $195,200
Lot 35. John James Audubon’s Plate 1: Wild American Turkey C. Aquatint from “Birds of America.” Estimated $125,000 to $175,000 it brought $170,800
Lot 138G. John Gould and Richard Bowdler Sharpe’s The Birds of New Guinea and the adjacent Papuan islands, including many new species recently discovered in Australia. It was estimated $30,000 to $40,000 and brought $146,400
Lot 58. John James Audubon’s Plate 431: American Flamingo. Aquatint from “The Birds of America.” It was estimated $100,000 to $120,000 and brought $115,900
About the sale, both an official of an uninvolved auction house and a dealer competitor mentioned that two basic rules of auctions had been violated in this sale. Material on offer is usually displayed together both for easy and anonymous inspection that does not require interaction with a consignor’s staff. In this sale, material to be viewed had to be requested and then brought out. Further, such viewing is almost always away from the seller because potential bidders and their representatives as a matter of general practice do not want to be known to be interested. Neutral viewing it turns out is an important element in the auction process.
One other aspect was noted. The bibliographic details of the items offered were complete but their selling narratives lacking. To sell to dealers basic details are often enough because professionals usually understand item significance. But this sale was decidedly oriented to institutions and collectors and these communities first buy the story and then the item.
For Mr. Arader, who has periodically sold at auction—at Sotheby’s in 2004 and at Neal Auctions more recently—this was an audacious undertaking. As a sale it succeeded, as an auction it didn’t work well enough. He, post-sale, expressed his commitment to continue to sell at auction, the what, where and how-to to in time be decided. As to when he’s already thinking about early May.
I myself purchased two items in expensive frames; lot 214, Map of the Hudson between Sandy Hook & Sandy Hill; and lot 215, The Hudson by Daylight published by Wm. F. Link in 1878. They together cost $2,100 plus commissions. In the shop they had been priced at $12,000 and in the sale estimated $7,000 to $9,000. They were wonderful buys as were many other items. But to buy you had to participate and for this sale not enough bidders did.