Issue #165  11/2/2009
NYC Auction Season Surprisingly Strong For Most of The Houses: Bloomsbury Only Exception as It Sells Less Than 18% of Its Photos, But Does Better On Books At 63.8%

By Alex Novak

Bloomsbury Auctions had the unenviable position of being first up in this series of fall auctions here in New York City. According to auction writer Stephen Perloff (more on Steve in a story below), few people in the small auction room were there to bid, but plenty of consignors were there to watch the results. They were probably not too happy.

At a mere 17.8% of its photographs sold, Bloomsbury was the only house to do poorly this time around. It did better on its large book selection and sold through at a respectable 63.8%. Overall the auction sold only 32.5% of the total lots, which with premium (now raised from 20 to 22%--a big mistake in my opinion) totaled well under $1/4 million. That is an average of considerably less than $2,500 per lot.

I think the auction house might have done a bit better had it matched up its sale date with Swann, which chose a date two weeks later than most. Bloomsbury also must start to really promote its auctions and develop its mailing lists for this relatively new category for this house, and instead its management seems to be retrenching.

It is actually too bad. The house did a nice job on its catalogue, and the material--while somewhat lower in value--was priced well. There were definite bargains to be had here: just very few bidders.

The top image lot in the auction was #19, a dynamic fashion shot of Cyd Charisse in an evening dress by Macrini by Richard Avedon, which sold for a total of $21,960 with the new higher premium.

The top book lot was #229, a signed and dedicated copy of William Klein's "Life Is Good & Good for You in New York", which sold for just $7,930.

The Weegee's from the Suzanne and Hugh Johnston Weegee Collection, which were featured in the sale, seemed to be a strategic mistake: too many and at too high a price for this market. Out of 51 Weegees in the auction, only five sold.

But there were certainly a lot more positive notes to this auction season at the big two, Christie's and Sotheby's, so we will move on to those venues.