Provenance, provenance, provenance, provenance and provenance. What in the world does that word mean? In the art world it means the place of origin of the object you are looking at. In the art world it also means a record of ownership of a work of art or antique.
On March 16, as part of a three-day sale, the Hindman Auction House in Palm Beach achieved record prices for work from the Palm Beach home and collection of Fred and Kay Krebiel. Most of that collection of French and Italian antiques and works of art, aside from being owned by the Krebiels — great provenance to begin with — had wonderful histories of origin and ownership. It was shock and awe for collectors and dealers alike.
A pair of English porcelain fruit coolers, estimated at $400–$600 sold for $2,250. A pair of large Delftware handled urns, estimate $2,000–$4,000, sold for $9,000. A George III-style painted and parcel-gilt oval mirror, estimate $1,000–$1,500, sold for $11,000 to a digital bid. That is the response by bidders to a collection from a great collector who has a collection with great provenance. Only a few lots did not sell.
How should a novice approach an auction? Here are some 21st century facts and tips regarding auctions.
Few bidders will actually be in the auction room at the auction house for the sale. On the 16th, at Hindman there were never more than seven people in the room at any given time. The days of standing room only at auction houses are over, unless it is “I must be seen at that sale” at Sotheby’s or Christie’s. Bids are taken by the staff of the auction house by phone or digitally. Popular platforms are Invaluable or Live Auctioneers, to which one can subscribe.
Beware of “auction fever.” You can end up spending far more than you intended if you allow yourself to get caught up in a bidding war. Know what you want to pay and stick with it during the bidding.
Remember the buyer’s premium. At Hindman’s it is an additional 26% over the Hammer Price (the price for which the item sold) up to and including the first $1,000,000. Calculate that percentage when you are deciding how high you will bid on a work.
If you cannot examine the item in person before the sale, always ask the auction house about the condition, sometimes described in the catalog and sometimes not. I myself like to examine the item in person. Photographs often alter the color. While auction houses will describe the condition to you, I believe it is best to see the item for yourself. That limits my participation in most auctions nationwide.
There are, fortunately, enough auctions in Palm Beach to keep me busy.
Happy bidding and good luck!