Published: September 16, 2003
The Labor Day weekend sale at Garth’s Auctions on August 29 attracted considerable attention because of a 21-inch-tall jar, a newly structured buyer’s premium and the new look of the catalogs.
A stoneware vessel with alkaline glaze had applied decoration of an eagle and shield with 13 stars within a laurel wreath on one side and a stylized Lady Liberty on the other. Inscribed “John Lehman Maker of this Jar” and bringing a total of $63,000, it was the only piece in the auction to exceed the step-down point in Garth’s new buyer’s premium.
This was the first sale at Garth’s where a 15 percent buyer’s premium was charged. Previously, the auction house had a buyer’s premium of 13 percent, with a discounted ten percent to those who paid by cash or check. The discount was a way to pass along the costs of Visa or Mastercard without technically charging for it. The new premium is 15 percent on purchases up to $50,000 and ten percent above that amount, although the charge for doing business via eBay is 20 percent. On the other hand, there is no longer any distinction as to the type of payments accepted. That means that collectors can now use their charge cards to simultaneously add to their accumulations and their free airline miles.
The new format of the catalog was the result of a survey of Garth’s subscribers. The old catalog measured 81/2 by 51/2 inches and used limited color on the covers and a few center pages. The new format is 81/2 by 11 inches, with all rdf_Descriptions pictured in full color. The new catalog gives potential bidders much more information than was presented in the smaller primarily black and white booklet. It is a long overdue and an impressive change for the auction house.
Of course, improvements do come at a cost. The annual subscription rate for Garth’s catalogs has increased to $195 a year. Americana catalogs had been $110, and the Continental, etc were $60, for a total of $170. This new rate – which includes brochures to the monthly eclectic auctions – compares to $121.50 for Christie’s, $142 for Sotheby’s and $150 for Skinner’s, although these prices are for only the American furniture and decorative arts sales and do not include catalogs for separate collecting specialties, such as paintings, American Indian, Oriental, etc.
The new catalogs also reflect a new philosophy at Garth’s about the makeup of sales. “We’ve gone away from Americana or Continental,” stated Jeff Jeffers, president of Garth’s Auctions, Inc. “Now we have antiques auctions.”
In the past, Garth’s had two types of cataloged sales: “Americana” and “English, Continental, Victorian & Oriental.” In addition, the firm conducts “Eclectic Auctions” on the first Friday of each month. These include rdf_Descriptions that do not warrant the time and effort of full descriptions and photographs in a formal catalog. Or, in many cases, the owners needed to sell relatively quickly and did not want to wait for the process necessary to have their rdf_Descriptions included in the cataloged sales.
And so it was in the August auction when an Eames armchair and ottoman by Herman Miller, an English Queen Anne side chair and a refinished continuous arm Windsor were hammered down on the same day. Depending on a person’s interest, this new format adds to either the boredom or the excrdf_Descriptionent of the sale. Some potential buyers do not like waiting through the selling of Oriental or Continental rdf_Descriptions; others find that the inclusion of such merchandise adds new dimensions to their collecting.
Jeffers sees the enlarged format as contributing to the growth in interest via the Internet. The company has been placing the sales on eBay for about a year now. Because of it, the number of registered bidders for each type of sale (Americana or Continental, etc) has doubled to about 500 for each. With the combination of the two types of sales into one antiques auction, the number of registered bidders has increased another 20 percent to about 1,200.
The presence on eBay has made a significant difference for Garth’s. “What I can tell you,” said Jeffers, “is that the eBay listings have more than doubled our registered bidders. As we have studied its impact, we see it adding close to 20 percent more money. It accounts for 24-26 percent of sales by lot volume.”
The new catalog invites a closer examination, which leads to the observation of a major change in policy that had first taken place at the beginning of 2002. Previously, Garth’s guaranteed “the condition of each rdf_Description as represented in the catalog.” Now, the guarantee applies to “the authenticity of origin as stated in the first bold line of the catalog description.” Thus, the warranty is only good for such phrases as “pair of paintings,” “grotesque jug,” “group of brass rdf_Descriptions,” etc. While this does not negate Garth’s integrity and commitment to accuracy, it does appear to be a significant variance in policy.
In 2002, Garth’s Labor Day weekend sale started at 4 pm on Friday with about 350 lots being sold that day and a similar number of rdf_Descriptions going across the block Saturday morning and afternoon. On Friday, August 29, of this year, the sale of the 740 lots started at 9 am and continued through the afternoon and into the early evening. There was no Saturday business.
After the stoneware jar, the second highest price of the day – $21,850 – was achieved for a large oil on canvas painting of a fox eating a chicken. The artist, Seymour Lindsey from Lexington, Ohio, is well-known among Ohio folk art collectors for his wonderful and whimsical depiction of wildlife. In addition to the fox and chicken, a quail, chipmunk, hummingbird, beetle and another fox are included in the 40- by 46-inch painting.
The next lot to sell after the Lindsey was another oil. Featuring a sea battle between two ironclads and several sailing ships in the background, the painting was signed “A. J. McPhee” and brought $13,513.
The most expensive piece of furniture in the sale was the walnut Queen Anne highboy with a bonnet top and carved shells in the top and bottom center drawers. It went for $14,375. A figured cherry ten-drawer tall chest with French feet sold for $13,513, and a Chippendale mirror with eagle crest reached 7,188.
In contrast to the higher-priced rdf_Descriptions, 515 lots – more than two-thirds of the sale – brought less than $500. It did not take deep pockets to be a part of the action at Garth’s on August 29.
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