Issue #16  5/22/2000
It Was Almost All 19th Century For Christie's

If only the promise of the catalogue's daguerreotypes had been fulfilled, oh what an auction we would have seen!   From the catalogues it looked like Christie's had the more interesting of auctions, but it was not to be.  The condition on most of the large plate European dags was frankly dreadful.  They had almost all been cleaned in the past in a very mediocre way.  The daguerreotypes were early and may have been ungilded, which in turn may have complicated any cleaning effort.

In any case, two of the Joseph-Philbert Girault De Prangey and one of the anonymous Nantes views still made it into the top ten lots, and most of the others received pretty hot attention considering (or should I say despite) their poor condition.

The top lot of the sale was the important and rare but not particularly exciting direct positive of a chateau by Hippolyte Bayard from 1839 (Lot 157), which sold for 146,750 pounds sterling, or about $230,000 against an estimate of 20,000-30,000 pounds.  It was a rather steep price and sold to a woman bidding in the room for a client.  I believe Hans Kraus was the underbidder.

Dealer Lee Marks took the next lot in price, the Imperial Asylum at Vincennes group by Charles Negre, for 47,000 pounds, well within the estimate of 40,000-60,000 pounds.  I only felt a handful of the images was of top quality in this lot, but those images were very good indeed.

Eadweard Muybridge's Cloud's Rest, Valley of Yosemite, 1872, made 44,650 pounds (against a too-low estimate of 6,000-8,000 pounds) and sold to a bidder on the phone.  The other Muybridges also did very well.  These were generally superior prints on original mounts, although a few of the single and all of the multiple lots were not of the finest print quality.  Great variability here.

The next lot was the top Joseph-Philbert Girault De Prangey daguerreotype (very rare) of "The Haram al-Sharif, Jerusalem," early 1840s bought by Michael Wilson with Badr el Hadj, a noted collector of Middle Eastern material, underbidding him.  It made 29,375 pounds versus an estimate of only 5,000-7,000 pounds.

Irish collector Sean Sexton bought an album of Henry Arthur Herbert's portraits and views for 29,275 pounds versus an estimate of only 2,000-2,500 pounds.

Another daguerreotype took the next spot in the hierarchy of bids.  An anonymous view of a tree-lined view of Nantes with Prefecture building, 1841, brought in 25,850 pounds for the house against an estimate of 5,000-7,000 pounds.  The phone nailed this one down against dealer Robert Hershkowitz in the room.  Hershkowitz and his sometimes partner dealer Charles Isaacs were, however, successful on a number of daguerreotypes from this sale.  The images the pair bid on were particularly artistic and moving.

An early Felice Beato album of Korean and Japanese views sold for 17,625 pounds versus an estimate of 5,000-7,000 pounds.

Another Joseph-Philbert Girault De Prangey daguerreotype of the "Abdullah [Ibn el Kherife] Mecka," early 1840s, sold to el Hadj for 16,450 pounds.

Another Felice Beato album of the Second Opium War China, 1860 brought 16,450 pounds from a private collector.

And finally a U.S. dealer bought the Edward Weston of the Armco Steel Works, 1922 (printed later, but still early) for 15,275 pounds versus an estimate of 8,000-12,000 pounds.

All in all, Christie's sold 1,198,246 pounds worth of photos with a sell-through of 66%.  While the buy-in rate was better than at Sotheby's, the all-important pounds-sold total fell far short of Sotheby's.   And there was controversy with the auctioneering as well.

After an incredibly slow morning and obviously frustrated by the pace and the ability to see in the very lengthy room (often interrupted by workers carrying the likes of huge ship models right through the middle of the auction), Michael Pritchard, the first auctioneer of the day, made several mistakes.  Robert Koch was beside himself when the auctioneer just didn't seem to see him, despite Koch waving wildly on one of the Muybridge lots.

I also had trouble with bad auctioneering twice during this sale.  At one point I thought I had won a Frith Egyptian book, but Pritchard apparently didn't even see me, even though he appeared to be pointing directly at me.  In both that instance and the Koch affair, Pritchard refused to reopen the bidding.  But at another point the auctioneer (a different one from Pritchard) actually reopened the bid on a lot I had won a full three seconds after the hammer had already been banged, after a Christie's staff member raised her hand well after the lot had been hammered down realizing she had missed a commission bid.  This kind of auctioneering is frankly disgraceful anywhere.

Rick Wester tried to explain to the pair of us (me and Koch) the difference in education and style in English versus American auctioneers.  While he was being very diplomatic, the explanation was full of holes.

If Wester was right, English auctioneers would then always sell at a rate of about 50 lots an hour (versus everyone else's 100+), disregard bidders at will and reopen hammered down bids to their own personnel, while closing off legitimate bids from others.  Somehow that has not been my experience or Koch's (we've both been doing this for about 25 years), so I doubt this is a requirement for all London auctioneers.  Admittedly, there have been problems at both houses with auctioneering on occasion, but this was one of the worst displays I can recall and marred an otherwise decent sales effort.