The same regional UK auction house that had great success last year with some exceptional material from the Craven's estate came up with a little bit more, plus an assortment of odds and ends to make a real photography auction out of it. Bearne's Auctioneers again previewed in London and sold in Exeter.
Bearne's is clearly trying to make a run at the photography art market. This year's catalogue had considerably better printing than last year's. What remains to be seen is what they will use as a draw for next time.
While the non-Craven material was very erratic in quality, there was at least one major lot: a complete set of Edward Curtis volumes of the North American Indian with 725 photogravures (as opposed to the called for 720). It got a lot of attention from the normal American sources (Santa Fe dealer Andrew Smith was actually in attendance), but apparently a consortium of two UK book dealers (Max Reed and Bernard Shapiro) and one American (William Reese) purchased the set for 440,000 pounds sterling plus the premium (17.625% up to 29,999 pounds and 11.75% thereafter), a new world record at auction. The group currently has it for sale for $1.25 million.
Two studies of gnarled tree trunks by Craven went to the phone. Lot 223, which was the study in the best condition, sold for 56,000 pounds plus the premium. The next lot, which was similar in color but heavily foxed and stained, sold for 19,000 pounds.
The real excitement of the day was over the fabulous but obviously expensive Craven Memorial Album. The images were magical and the condition was superb for the most part. With 109 prints, this album clearly showed that the Earl of Craven should rank with the top early English photographers. His portraits of children put many of the Lewis Carroll images to shame.
With only one bidder (utilizing two phones at the auction, one perhaps for his adviser) bidding against a reserve, the album sold for its low estimate of 500,000 pounds sterling plus premium. To my mind, it was a very reasonable price for the high quality of the material. The buyer was reportedly Saoud Al Thani, the sheik from Qatar who shook up the UK photo market over the last few years. Al Thani had bought heavily at the last Bearne's auction.
While basically four lots drove the auction, Bearne's still managed to edge out both Sotheby's and Christie's regular sales, bringing in well over 1.3 million pounds sterling with the premium.