Data from thesaleroom.com suggests that of the top 100 UK provincial salerooms recording sales of £1m or more, less than half (43%) recorded an increase in turnover, with 22% remaining roughly unchanged and 35% showing a significant decrease.
Both a discernible weakening in the Asian market and the long-standing softness in the market for traditional European furnishings were cited as reasons for a less-than-vintage year.
For the first time this decade, the total volume of sales at auction was marginally down year-on-year with the second half of 2015 proving particularly challenging.
For the first time in a decade Asian art (with sales of £3.36m) was pipped by the jewellery department (£3.41m) at Woolley & Wallis.
In all, the January to December 2015 hammer total at the Salisbury auction house - for eight years in succession the UK's largest regional fine art saleroom in terms of sales - was £13.66m.
This represents a 17% fall over 2014 (£16.55m), reflecting, said chairman Paul Viney, the shortfall in the Chinese market.
Though the firm's highest price of the year (and the highest in the regions) was the £340,000 bid in May for a Yongzheng doucai bowl, four of the six lots sold for over £100,000 in 2015 were gemstones.
In all, six departments turned over £1m with the firm also showing the potential of its fledgling standalone tribal art sales where takings doubled to £675,000.
The gulf between the Salisbury salerooms and their regional rivals - that reached its peak in 2010 when W&W rode the crest of a Chinese wave to post a provincial record figure of £23.36m - has narrowed significantly.
Record at Fellows
The £13.66m was closely followed by the record sales of £13.5m posted by Fellows of Birmingham.
The jewellery and watch specialists first joined the top table of regional auctioneers at the turn of the decade (posting sales of £12.1m in 2013 and 2014) and saw a year-on-year increase of 12%.
Despite the modest bullion prices - scrap silver and gold are now way down from the highs seen in 2012 - there have been many compensations in the markets for coloured gemstones, saltwater pearls and the coral, amber and agate beads that have such appeal in the Far East. The jewellery department at Fellows upped their turnover by 18%.
Managing director Stephen Whittaker said internet activity at Fellows continues to grow across a range of different platforms and live bidding purchasers were up 11% to £3.9m.
This was mirrored by "significant investment in back office systems, the website, and photographic resources".
Hammer sales at Tennants in Leyburn reached £12.5m, down £500,000 on the previous year but the firm's third highest aggregate and one achieved without a single 'windfall' entry to impact the bottom line.
The highwater mark in Leyburn of £14.1m in 2012 was achieved with the aid of a £2.6m Yongzheng bottle vase. In 2015 the top lot was a Rolex Military Submariner sold at £48,000 in July.
No regional saleroom has invested more in its bricks-and-mortar presence than Tennants, who at the beginning of the year opened the £7.1m Garden Rooms extension, a multi-purpose venue designed to combine auctions with the arts, education and events.
With fortnightly antique and interior sales and regular specialist auctions (across 24 departments), the firm have at least 80 auctions scheduled for 2016.
Solid sales amid changes
In a turbulent year that saw the departure of chief executive Stephan Ludwig and the movement of operations to Ely House (Mallett), sales at Dreweatts & Bloomsbury Auctions (a subsidiary of LSE-listed business Stanley Gibbons) remained solid at £21.3m, up from £20.4m in 2014.
Trading across Dreweatts' saleroom locations (Donnington Priory, Bristol and select events in Mayfair) totalled £11.6m - the same as in 2014.
Sales of silver, jewellery and watches totalled £2.8m and pictures £1.4m, while the interiors department posted £3.3m.
Sales at Bloomsbury in Mayfair and Godalming were down from £8.8m to £8.3m (including £6m from books and manuscripts and £1.8m from prints and contemporary art) with further revenues generated by the Mallett at Home sales in Ely House.
January to December hammer sales at the Stansted Mountfitchet firm Sworders in 2015 were £7.2m, the same as 2014.
The result came without a single 'game-changing' entry and the sobering observation made by managing director Guy Schooling that few collecting categories are seeing price inflation.
To adapt to the market, weekly sales at Sworders have changed to fortnightly events, more specialist sales will be held and the firm have invested heavily in a new website.
"I see more and more of our future in online sales in one format or another," said Schooling.
Most registered online bidders:
Halls/Bigwoods, Felix Dennis collection, September 29-October 1: 1327 (one of seven sales in 2015 to register more than 1000 bidders)
Most lots sold online:
Halls/Bigwoods, Felix Dennis collection, September 29-October 1: 692 of 1833 lots, (38%) representing £368,710 of the £1.15m sale total