Issue #26  3/1/2001
Swann February Sale Hits The Mark Again

Last year Swann took its first shot at scheduling an auction just after AIPAD. It met with great success. When you first succeed, why not try again?

Daile Kaplan, Swann's photo expert, told me that she had high traffic throughout the viewing period and that she (like Larry Miller noted above for the AIPAD show) saw many new faces, estimating that over 50% of the crowd were new buyers. Kaplan told me that she felt that there was "some kind of shift, a widening of the market and a lot of new bidders--serious folk."

This year's session did not seem to have quite the high-powered images of last February's and the material lacked a little excitement to this observer. But what do I know? The auction was a solid success once again. Buy-ins were a reasonable 28% of the total 212 lots, although about 2% of those lots sold after the sale. The auction brought in over $813,000 by my totals and a very healthy (particularly for Swann) $5315 average per lot sold. That latter statistic may be a record for Swann and represented a very solid showing, especially considering that there were no six-figure or even high five-figure lots. The prices below all include Swann's premium.

The room was very crowded, but the largest bank of phones I have ever seen at Swann and the order book provided much of the action.

The first lot of note was a mostly washed out Lewis Carroll of Xie Kitchin. Estimated fairly at $3000-$5000, it sold in a pitched phone battle for $14,950 including the premium (still a reasonable 15% at Swann). The room sat on their hands.

Shortly after, lucky lot 13 broke through to $43,700, in the lower part of its estimate range and getting the second highest price of the day. The lot was a nice Civil War carte-de-visite album of 201 images. Some of the portraits were signed or accompanied by a clipped signature or signed autographed document. It went to a pair in the room, who left immediately afterwards.

Lot 42 provided the next price mark of note. It was a Stieglitz photogravure ("Gossip, Katwyck") that was signed by the master himself and featured on the back cover of the catalogue. I thought the small size (only 2-1/2" x 3-3/4") might hold this item back but it broke over its high estimate and brought in $29,900 to the house from an order bidder.

The next lot (43), a group of 43 images of the Far East, including some by John Thomson, did well at $18,400. The bid again coming from the order book.

A group of Antarctic contact prints that brought $17,250 confused me and some others. The description lead one to believe that these were made by Scott himself, yet the listing said they were printed in the 1920s, well after Scott had died (1912)! It still brought $17,250, which was just a shade under the estimates. The lot went to the phone.

The phone also took lot 85, three Steichen Camera Work issues with some copy photos included. West Coast dealer Rob Tat was the underbidder on this one.

Lot 107, a vintage Alfred Eisenstaedt of the Opening of La Scala in Milan, one of the photographer's most iconic images, was estimated at a very low $5,000-$7,500. Everyone in the room (and on the phone and in the order book) was hoping that they were the only ones to see the value in this one. It sold to the phone finally for $14,950. The only minor drawback was that the signature was on a period (and not archival) overmat. Still, it was a very nice vintage print for this image. I think it would bring over $20,000 on the retail market.

A very early and unusual Mapplethorpe collage (lot 149) brought $18,400--again from a phone bidder.

The humor for the day came from auctioneer Nicholas Lowry. He was reviewing a lot of male nudes by Bruce of Los Angeles (a staple at Swann's, it seems), when he described the lot as a "brief run of nudes. Hmmm. Wouldn't a brief run be a streak?"

Swann has always done well with Eugene Smith's Mother and Tomoko. It set a world's record for this work back in 1997 with a vintage print that I had consigned. This time it would tie that record, bringing in $23,000 for lot 182 in a battle of the phones.

On lot 189, auctioneer Lowry had a little more fun after an excruciatingly slow back-and-forth battle of two phones. He kidded one reluctant phone bidder after they finally quit, "Are you just saving us from the wait?" It was a thought we all echoed in the audience.

Swann had two of its biggest bids coming down the home stretch. Lot 201 was the Vanished World portfolio by Roman Vishniak. Tom Gitterman, director of the Howard Greenberg Gallery, was busy with his cell phone in his bidding war with the phone bank. He won at $34,500.

The next lot (202) was a Weegee Portfolio. It brought $51,750 including the premium.

I had the distinction to take home the last lot of the day, a Georgi Zimin photogram, in one of the few battles fought out right in the room. A friend right next to me had decided that he too liked the image. Oh well.

It was hard for Daile Kaplan to contain herself afterwards as she told me, "We were very satisfied with the results of the sale. This sale demonstrates that artwork and photography are moving independent of the stock market (which was down during this period). Pictures have more appeal than stock certificates."

That last bit certainly had to be the quote of the week.