Swann Galleries' addition of a small but respectable auction immediately after the AIPAD show was a major success for them. Buy-ins were extremely low (13.6% by lot, including a couple just after the sale) and the sale, which consisted of a mere 103 lots (about 20% of its last sale), made a very healthy $724,500. Most of the major pieces sold, and sold very well (14 lots broke into five or six figures), but lots in general were hitting in the estimates range or above them. The room, phone and order bids (bids left earlier) all contributed to the sales activity and prices.
Lot 6, which was an archive of 170 Circus images, brought just under $30,000 (est.$14,000-$18,000) with the 15% buyer's premium from a dealer on the phone. A very happy auctioneer Daile Kaplan, cheered by the results, exclaimed, "This is fun!"
A group of 35 photographs of Java from about 1900 was knocked down for $17,250 (est. $3000-$4,000) by a collector on the phone. The action was fairly frantic and Kaplan joked at one point: "Anyone else care to jump in?"
The Karl Blossfeldt "Urformen der Kunst" book ($5060) and portfolio both did well. I believe the portfolio set a new record at $14,950. It sold, not surprisingly, to a dealer in the room.
The three sets of Camera Work gravures (Lots 38-40) went for very healthy prices, all above estimates. Two sold by phone and the last and most important lot went to San Francisco dealer Rob Tat for over $16,000 (est. $7,000-$9,000), who bid in the room.
But the real excitement had to wait until Lot 42, the bound volume of 99 large-format Curtis photogravures in "pristine" condition. After a pitched battle between phone bidders and Christopher Cardoza, a Minneapolis dealer in Curtis material and one of the largest such dealers in the U.S., the plates went to Cardoza, who was in the room, for an astounding $178,500 against the estimate of only $40,000-50,000.
The Paul Outerbridge, Jr. New York City abstraction (Lot 85) brought $18,400 (est.$20,000-$30,000) from a collector on the phone.
The second lot to break into six figures was the Ponting archive of 125 contact prints (Lot 87). It brought $123,500 from a dealer after a dramatic duel between phone bidders.
Finally a nice (1960-70s) Eugene Smith "Walk to Paradise" sold for $23,000 to a collector.
All prices above include the 15% buyer's premium.
An exuberant Kaplan said afterwards, "The sale was a wonderful cap to a busy weekend of photography in New York. We were ecstatic with the strong prices overall and the fact there were so many new faces at the auction."
Swann's gamble had paid off, proving: 1.) Prints at all levels will sell well, if you don't overload the market; and, 2.) AIPAD week is fine for ONE small auction. Now if the auction houses can only restrain their greed in the Spring and Fall, we might see a return to reasonable buy-ins and a "complete" market rather than the split between a few high-end pieces setting records and other material languishing. Don't, however, expect this to happen. The market is still very strong, but it's also still relatively small and can't absorb all of this material, especially on top of the electronic auctions (Ebay, Sotheby's, Art.net). Sotheby's has already announced an extra sale of The Southland Companies (Seven-Eleven Stores) Collection for the spring.