For the second year running Dreweatts is the UK’s leading ‘regional’ auction house with a January to December hammer turnover of £25.7m.
Topped by a Qianlong ‘heavenly globe’ vase sold in May for £1.2m (the one seven-figure lot sold in the region’s last year), the auctioneers rode what they called “the continued resurgence of interest in the traditional country house aesthetic” to get close to 2021’s £27.7m – which remains a record for any provincial saleroom.
Equivalent sales for the firm, owned by art consultancy and valuation specialist Gurr Johns since 2017, had been £14.6m in 2020.
Dreweatts’ Fine Furniture, Single Owner Collection and Interiors auctions generated £9.7m with those of Modern & Contemporary, Old Masters and British and European Art achieving £5.6m. Sales were further boosted by £1.8m in private treaty transactions.
Dreweatts managing director Jonathan Pratt said an exceptional year was grounded in a traditional approach to selling alongside the embrace of new technology.
“We are naturally delighted with last year’s results and particularly the growth in all our core departments.
“However, I increasingly feel that the inexorable rise of all things internet risks marginalising a key responsibility of the auction house to serving consignors. While continuing to embrace new technologies, Dreweatts will continue to emphasise the importance of a traditional printed catalogue when bringing exciting landmark auctions to market.”
Also part of the Gurr Johns group is books and works on paper specialist Forum Auctions. It delivered hammer sales of £12.5m against £17m (plus £1.8m) in 2021. Turnover from prints and editions dropped in response to what the auction house said was “the marked reduction in prices for Banksy works”. Books auctions raised £7.3m.
Dreweatts and Forum delivered a combined hammer total of around £38m across 125 auction events selling almost 40,000 lots in 2022.
Woolley & Wallis has been the leading UK regional firm for much of the past 20 years.
In 2022 the Salisbury firm conducted sales totalling £21m, up on £20.5m in 2021. It was the firm’s third-highest total in its history next to the highwater mark of £23.4m in 2010 (when a consignment of imperial jades made £9m) and 2017 (when a significant percentage of sales of £22.9m were provided by a private sale).
The paintings department achieved a record annual turnover at £3.3m, with consistent results in both Old Masters and Modern paintings. The Sir William Nicholson painting sold as part of the collection of Siegfried Sassoon at £440,000 in May was the top lot of the year, with the auction of the contents of Exbury House in October a £1.4m bonus for the furniture department.
A significant change for the firm has been the opening of a new viewing space at its Castlegate warehouse site at Old Sarum. In recent years, many lots stored in Old Sarum had been packed and moved the two miles to Castle Street, Salisbury, for sale. The addition of a new floor to the building has increased the firm’s exhibition space threefold.
Generally, viewing numbers have risen significantly last year although attendance at auctions has not risen in tandem. “In general, markets appear to have calmed down and returned to pre-Covid levels,” said Clare Durham of W&W.
The firm has some promising sales planned for this year including items from the family of Adolphe Stoclet that will be sold in a series of auctions in spring and summer. Silver commissioned by the family from the Wiener Werkstätte is currently being catalogued for sale in June.
Also in the pipeline is an exhibition of Martin Brothers birds to mark the centenary of the death of Robert Wallace Martin, while the sale of an important collection of Chinese jades in November will be prepped by a handling session in the spring.
In 2021, in a 12-month period when the traditional auction market was transformed by digitalisation, many of the leading regional fine art auction houses enjoyed record sales.
The reasons for a remarkable upturn in fortunes were three-fold: the mini art market boom that led to price increases during the pandemic; the positive input of a new generation of buyers via the internet; and the focus of the major London houses on the highest-value lots which has led to more consignments going to regional firms. Adding to that in the last 12 months was the sense that, as fairs at the middle and upper levels of the market struggle, more business is moving from the antiques shop to the auction room.
In 2021 Lyon & Turnbull had hammered £21m – by some distance the best aggregate the company has recorded in its long history. It was followed last year by figures of £19.5m.
Managing director Gavin Strang said: “Considering that this time we had no seven-figure lots to boost the total (there were two the previous year – a £1.2m bid for a gothic ivory table casket and £1.04m for a Nicola da Urbino maiolica dish), we are very happy with what the result says about our underlying sales levels.
“We have effectively doubled our annual hammer over the past five years. We found in 2022 that sales remained buoyant: the expanded market we experienced the previous year did not noticeably recede: selling rates and average lot values were more or less the same year on year.”
The Edinburgh-based firm’s top lot of the year was The Intrepid, the world’s largest single bottle of whisky sold for May for £900,000.
L&T enjoyed particular traction in areas such as single-owner collections, 19th and 20th century design (including several near sell-out sales of Lalique glass) and pictures.
Ex-Sotheby’s Modern & Contemporary specialist Simon Hucker joined the staff in the autumn. He will be heading up L&T’s new London sale category ‘Avant Garde – Art from 1900 to Now’.
Strang added that, “although glad to see room bidders returning, especially for ‘event’ sales, I suspect they will never return to what they once were”.
Fellows in Birmingham declined to give a total but reported “steady growth compared to 2021”.
Alexandra Whittaker said the firm had received “increased interest in online services this year, even more than during the various lockdowns”.
The offer of free, worldwide shipping that applied to 90% of the goods Fellows sold has been particularly popular.
“Demand is still strong for good-quality antique pieces of jewellery, especially items with provenance and strong design influences,” Whittaker added. “In general, the Rolex bubble seems to have burst with prices for the more common models returning to their pre-pandemic level.”
Fellows is now conducting the majority of its sales without an auctioneer: weekly jewellery auctions and the quarterly sales of designer goods and antiques and collectables will continue in their timed, online-only format.
On the rise
Tennants in Leyburn, North Yorkshire, was one of the few leading rooms that managed to show a significant year-on-year increase in 2022.
Its hammer total was £15.2m, compared to £12.8m in 2021 and £9.9m in 2020.
For the second year running the top lot was a Lowry oil (The North Sea, sold for £840,000) but a ‘windfall’ consignment also came in the form of the 1966 World Cup medal, shirt and cap owned by Alan Ball that collectively made £445,000.
“It was a very strong year,” said Jane Tennant. “We are continuing to welcome bidders back and celebrating Tennants as a destination.
“The number of bidders in the room are back to pre-Covid levels and we have seen even more online bidders joining our sales as we continue to invest in our digital reach.”
The competition for jewellery and watches has strengthened with the arrival of a number of specialist auction firms based in and around the London area.
Founded in 2017 with the aim of offering clients a ‘retail’ experience, Notting Hill jewellery specialist Elmwood’s reported a sales figure of £14.59m for the 2022 calendar year.
“The market remained very strong,” said co-owner Samuel Hill. “We saw significant growth to new audiences, with over 50% of bids in 2022 coming from new bidders .
“While it is difficult to place a precise value on it, sanctions imposed on Russian buyers and sellers have had an effect. However, in times of financial crisis people want to put their money into something safe, and jewellery is always a safe investment. We can already report that our January 2023 sales figures were up 28% on January 2022.”
At Chiswick Auctions of west London, now relocated at the Barley Mow Centre, the hammer total for the year was £14m.
“We were up 5% on last year which is surprising considering the disruption when we moved the whole business in the middle of the year,” said owner and managing director Leigh Osborne.
He believes the new premises, just off Chiswick High Road, are already beginning to bear fruit.
“With the change from an industrial estate to a high street site, we have noticed a ‘Barley Mow bounce’. Customers really like the gallery and behind the scenes it has helped simplify the logistics of the business. We have had many new starters.
“All in all, things are very positive. I am looking forward to bedding down into our new site this year and attracting more higher-end sellers and buyers.”
Fellow London firm Roseberys reported a good year while declining to give a total.
Associate director Bill Forrest told ATG “we experienced no signs of the market ‘cooling off’ after the Covid lift. Lockdown forced buyers to assess items from home, and bid from home, and actually this gave them great confidence, so much so that they have not flooded back to the rooms to view and bid live. The reliance on images, video reports and condition reports is ever present.”
And as of December last year, the London firm has taken the lease on a 9000 sq ft warehouse five minutes’ walk from the saleroom that is to become a new storage and processing hub. The firm is rolling out a new website shortly with enhanced client areas and better functionality for viewing images.
For most auction houses the return to the saleroom has generally been slow, suggesting a fundamental shift has occurred.
“Clients are viewing sales, albeit in smaller numbers, but few attend auction day, having become comfortable with the convenience of bidding online,” says Sworders chairman Guy Schooling.
The Stansted Mountfitchet, Essex, firm reported a total hammer figure of £11.75m, a fraction up on 2021’s £11.6m. The estate of Sir Jack and Lady Diana Baer was the year’s choice consignment with its set of nine 17th century Florentine pietra dura panels selling at £130,000.
The spring Asian art sale spawned the top lot: a tiny 12th century Indian bodhisattva sold for a surprise £210,000.
“Bidding has cooled somewhat post Covid, when the prices and selling rates were extraordinary,” added Schooling. “Good items are still very much in demand. However, the market is again fragmented. Brown furniture and green pictures (Victorian landscapes) remain difficult and unpopular.
“Our trade with Europe has all but disappeared. However, with the pound relatively weak, business with the rest of the world, including the US, remains strong.”
Some substantial consignments have already been received for the first half of the year, including a substantial Leicestershire property, a group of Angelica Kauffmans and a collection of East Anglian silver.
Collaborate to win
Cheffins reported it sold £11.5m worth of art, antiques, collectables and vintage vehicles throughout 2022.
The Cambridge firm’s total hammer sales in 2021 were £8.5m – a number that included the house record £1.41m for a Giambologna bronze. The highlights last year were more modest, although key sales for the year included a marble bust of the emperor Lucius Verus from a Suffolk country house which took £80,000.
In an effort to add some zest into the furnishings market, the firm worked on two ‘collaborations’: one with Norfolk-based homeware designer Birdie Fortescue and another with designer and Evening Standard columnist Jermaine Gallacher. These, said the auction house, “resulted in record prices paid in various sales as well as encouraging new audiences to Cheffins’ sales”.
Expanding down south
North-west auctioneer Adam Partridge also posted his best figures yet with sales totalling £6.4m (£4.96m in Macclesfield and £1.43m in Liverpool). This compared to sales of £5.2m in 2021.
Both salerooms showed an increase in turnover with the Liverpool saleroom now fed amply by a consignment office in Preston.
This year the firm also expanded further into the south-east and south-west of England. At the beginning of 2023 it announced two new acquisitions: Bainbridges in Ruislip, west London and a small auction house in Hele, Devon.
Both have been rebranded.
Adam Partridge London, now led by Ridley Partridge, held its first sale under the new management in February while Adam Partridge South West will hold its first sale on April 3 – which includes a watercolour of the ballet dancer Madame Marie Taglioni attributed to Sarah Biffin.
No room bidders
A total hammer sales figure of £6.3m was reported by relative newcomer Dawsons in Maidenhead, Berkshire.
The firm said it had a 24% year-on-year increase in sales, holding 30 sales compared with 26 in 2021. While the firm has taken the decision to hold all sales remotely – “all of our auctions are now live online with no room bidders and we will not return to room bidding,” said Aubrey Dawson – the number of new bidders was up 31% over the previous year.
The highlight of the year was the sale of a Renaissance period panel painting of the Madonna and Child by a follower of Filippino Lippi (1457-1504), which took a surprise £255,000 in the spring.
Reeman Dansie’s managing director James Grinter told ATG: “We had a bumper year in 2022 with total sales of £5.8m compared to £5.2m in 2021. This strong result was due to a range of high results including the Darwin family photograph albums which made £175,000.”
He added that a significant boost to the Colchester firm has been provided by the regular addition to the sales calendar of classic car sales and more regular timed sales.
Use your imagination
Repackaging of less fashionable sale categories into formats with potentially greater appeal is part and parcel of the 21st century auction room environment.
McTear’s valuations director Magda Ketterer oversaw the introduction of two new sales (Toys, Models & Pop Culture and Cabinet of Curiosities) and a new approach to more familiar selling categories.
“Last year we formulated two further auctions, re-imaginings if you will, of traditional categories, which brought many highlights and new bidders to our sales. By focusing on trends, our Silver & Luxury Accessories auction and our 19th & 20th Century Design auction allowed us to breathe new life into the long-established auction house categories of silver, ceramics, glass and furniture.”
Topped by a striking early oil by John Bellany (£80,000 in May), the January to December sales total at the Glasgow firm was £5.43m – almost exactly the same as the previous year.
In Surrey, Ewbank’s posted an 8.3% rise in auction hammer totals to £4.6m for 2022 as the firm launched fresh sales formats across “a 12-month period that continued to prove challenging because of the ongoing effects of the pandemic, Brexit and rising costs.
“We have looked at sales across the board to see how we can package them better for bidders,” said Andrew Ewbank. “That has led to the launch of our Pre-loved, Vintage & Antique auctions, Interiors & Modern Design sales, and fine art auctions dedicated to Contemporary art, editions and Modern British pictures.”
Entertainment and sporting memorabilia is now the firm’s biggest driver of business. The sale of large quantities of Pokémon and other trading cards and a dedicated auction of vintage video games has provided opportunities in a very 21st century collecting sphere.
Cardiff and Colwyn Bay firm Rogers Jones enjoyed record figures of £3.36m – a 10% increase on 2021 which had been the first year the firm had passed £3m in sales.
“It is really pleasing to see that 2021 was not a one-off. We have been growing year on year for the last five or so years,” said Ben Rogers Jones.
“We have found the market to be good overall. The only downturn has been for Welsh porcelain which has a diminishing following.
“I will quietly comment that there has been an upturn in demand for antique furniture in Wales. As working from home becomes the present and the future for many professionals, and more people relocate from urban centres, the rural housing market here is buoyant.”
The firm has adopted a hybrid approach to selling, blending timed online with live sales.
“I think that conducting business during the Covid-period taught us some very valuable lessons as to efficiency and customer service,” added Rogers Jones. “We have not returned to room bidding for our regular auctions but are open for our specialist auctions such as The Welsh Sale.”
And highlights for 2023? It is hard to look further than this week’s auction of match-worn jerseys belonging to the ‘greatest ever Welsh rugby player’ Sir Gareth Edwards, taking place on February 24.
This article presents a selection of annual hammer totals as reported by auction houses to ATG. It does not represent a comprehensive survey and the totals reported to us are not audited by us. Hammer totals for London firms with a particular specialty in coins and medals were reported last week in ATG No 2580. Any totals we receive after our print deadline will be added to the online version of this article.