Published: August 18, 2020
Review by Madelia Hickman Ring, Catalog Photos Courtesy The Popular Pioneer Auctions
NORTH CLARENDON, VT. – Who starts a new auction venture in the midst of a pandemic? Mike Bishop is who. He launched The Popular Pioneer auctions out of Rutland, Vt., in recent months conducting its inaugural sale on Sunday, August 7. Crossing the block were about 350 lots, largely the collection of a private Vermont collector who was “downsizing,” with a few additional items from friends of the collector who wanted to get in on the action. The sale took place at a venue – under a tent at a Cadillac dealership in North Clarendon – with a considerable portion of the sale offered online through AuctionZip, with the remaining lots being sold via absentee and phone bid or to the few dozen people who could attend the sale in person. While sale totals were modest – less than $100,000 –Bishop said all but a few lots were sold and the sale generated a lot of interest. He is excited to capitalize on that momentum.
“We brought in more than we expected, with about 40 to 50 people – the right people – in the room. I like to think that if we hadn’t had Covid, we would have had three times as many people. We were pretty happy with the result, and so is the seller,” Bishop enthused a few days after the sale. “We had a lot of compliments for our first sale, and my business is going in a direction I’m excited about.”
Bishop went to school for acting but started an antiques store in Nantucket, Mass., working with, as he put it, “some great people in the business. I sold some things through Osona, then sold a few things in Vermont. We had an opportunity to sell a fantastic private collection and the idea to start the business grew from there, all during Covid.” He has roped in a few friends, including Mike Stark of Stark Brothers Auctions. “Mike is a friend and he said ‘if you need me, I’m there for you. We both called bids and it was really fun. We worked really well with each other.”
The collector whose collection provided the genesis for the sale and business had eclectic taste, but the draw, at least for, Bishop, was her collection of works by Patrick Farrow (1942-2009), the sculptor who was also the son of actress Maureen O’Sullivan and brother of Mia Farrow. “She was good friends with Patrick; she’d purchase things from him directly,” Bishop said. “A lot of the things were unfinished after his suicide. There was not a large body of auction sales but I knew his things would bring good money.”
Farrow’s works ranged from jewelry to small bronzes, but it was his monumental bronze dog, “Leash,” which proved to be “Best In Show,” bringing $9,500 from a private collector with residences in both Vermont and Florida and who was bidding in the room. “The seller purchased ‘Leash’ from the back of Patrick’s Subaru,” Bishop recalled. Prices for Farrow’s jewelry, which Bishop recognized were highly sculptural if not wholly practical as wearable art, were more modest, but Bishop was thrilled to develop the secondary market for Farrow’s works. He noticed that interest in the artist’s pieces was largely local.
Other than Farrow’s works, the sale featured a varied assortment of Native American jewelry and jewelry by David Yurman, fine art and decorative arts. A print by Karel Appel brought $400, a 24-inch tall Nineteenth Century American salesman’s sample ladder made $250, while a poster from a Louis Vuitton Car expo made $150. A tennis bracelet finished at $1,000, while a matching sapphire necklace and bracelet fetched $3,000.
“At this point, I’m focusing on the structure of the business. We’ll see how it goes. I’m big on service. I want to do well. In this business, you have to be liable.”
When asked where the name of the business came from, Bishop said, “I want to sell the works of craftsmen and artists who were innovative, pioneers if you will, whose legacy was popular, who have survived to today.”
Bishop hopes to eventually emulate William Smith’s business model, preferring in-person sales to online events but acknowledges that technology is – and will most likely be – a part of his sales, at least for now. When asked what’s next for him, Bishop said, “This sale generated multiple calls, and there’s another estate we’re looking at.”
If Bishop can succeed during a pandemic, his future is bright.
Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house.
The Popular Pioneer is at 1236 US Route 4 in Rutland Town. For more information, www.thepopularpioneer.com, firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-353-8825.
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