Published: May 21, 2019
Review and Photos by Greg Smith
CHESTER, N.Y. – Latecomers to Bill and Andrea Jenack’s final sale were forced to stand. Not as any sort of punishment, but rather because every seat was filled for the May 5 sale as longtime consignors, buyers and friends turned out to wish the auctioneers a fond farewell.
The 400-plus lot sale was reminiscent of their first: an “old-fashioned auction,” as it is referred to now. One without internet bidding or phone bidding, where lots come up in random order, and one where the auctioneer is locked in conversation with the room before him. In short, if you were not there, you never had a chance.
Speaking with Antiques and The Arts Weekly before the sale, Bill and Andrea Jenack, along with their resident appraiser Kevin Decker, reminisced over their 38-year career.
“We started with appraisal work, and we were selling things through other auctioneers for people,” Bill Jenack said. “We started to associate with a few auctioneers and to work for them. And then we started our own sales in 1988, with a sale in Tuxedo Park. Our first auction was onsite; we had to have a court order to have it within the limits of Tuxedo Park because they had laws that prevent strangers from entering. We had to arrange shuttle buses from the Church parking lot, 200 feet away, into the entrance. There were people coming to pick up in their Ferraris and Rolls Royces.”
On their roles in the auction, Andrea Jenack handled the jewelry and represented the nuts and bolts business side, while Bill handled consignments with Decker.
“I don’t think there is a business that is more interesting,” Bill Jenack said. “We’ve met so many interesting people – and people are number one. You can’t be in this business and not learn something new every day. It can sometimes be many new things every day. It’s an industry we all love, and it’s been good to us. We’ve met some wonderful people, so many. And we’ve handled some very interesting things.”
After three decades, the Jenacks have watched the estate auction landscape grow and constrict. Never one to shy away from advancement, the firm was the twelfth house on LiveAuctioneers and have had 355 sales on the platform since 2003.
“The auction is fluid; it’s not a concrete idea. No one can predict with certainty or be able to judge the market response,” Jenack said. “And so the market is changing. The best – the real best – of virtually any category will still command strong prices. But the middle range of merchandise is very soft.”
From the outset, the Jenacks produced a straightforward and transparent auction process free from conflicts of interest.
“We made a conscious decision from the start to not outright buy things; it was a cleaner process. It’s a philosophical decision,” the Jenacks said.
Without children to pass the business on to, the Jenacks made the decision to close their doors and head into retirement. They will split time between New York and their home in Arizona and will continue to offer appraisal services.
The tailor-fit 12,500-square-foot auction facility that they built in 2000 has been sold to a microbrewery that assumed control of the premises on May 15. “This building gave us identification,” Jenack said. “It worked out great.”
After three decades in the business, Bill Jenack’s only regret was “two doors should have been 8-feet-high, and maybe we should have put in a few more outlets.”
“Everything happened as it should have,” he said. “We made the right moves, I think.”
The firm saw a number of highlights over the years, including a $529,000 result in 2010 for a Greek carved marble head that was consigned by the daughter of actor Anthony Quinn. The same year saw two other highlights cross the block in a Khlebnikov Russian silver and enameled covered box, which brought $109,250, and a Renaissance-style gilt-bronze and marble centerpiece from the Grand Tour era, which took $51,750. Paintings by Richard Edward Miller, Francis Luis Mora, Richard Hambleton, William Trost Richard, David Burliuk and Isamu Noguchi were all mid-five-figure stand outs over the years.
The farewell sale had only one goal: “Everything has to go,” Bill Jenack said before the event got underway. “Even some of the windows. It’s been a lot of fun digging through the stuff we’ve accumulated for over 30 years to put into the auction.”
And the 99 percent sell through rate, which took some coaxing from the auctioneer to achieve at certain times, was testament to a successful send-off. Faced with cleaning out the building in ten days, the firm sold everything but the walls: photography equipment, jewelry displays, the vacuum, their reference library, the bookcases that held the reference library, Bill Jenack’s oak desk and more. All of this in addition to the standard auction fare of paintings, antique furniture, jewelry, silver, decorative arts, Asian antiques and more.
The firm’s staff, some of whom had been with the business for years and others who returned solely for the day, held up and presented each lot to the crowd as it crossed the block.
Without the internet, the sale was replete with bargains. Among the standouts were a pair of etched glass Art Deco windows, which had originally come from a restaurant in Goshen, N.Y., and Jenack had them built into his gallery. They sold for $920. An optometrist’s trade sign took $805, a 9-by-12-foot Kashan carpet brought $680 and an iron snake sold for $488. The overwhelming majority of lots sold under $200.
“Today is bittersweet,” Andrea Jenack said. “Some people walk up to you, and you lose it. They touch you; they’ve been with us since we started. We’ve grown old with some of our clientele.”
“Thank you, thank you and thank you,” she continued. “It’s been a pleasure.”
As Jenack got up on the podium for the last time, he addressed the crowd that joined him that day, saying, “We’re fortunate to have been in an industry we loved, and we’re leaving on our own terms… It’s been a wonderful ride.”
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