Issue #45  6/27/2002
Christie's Has Better Sell-Through Rate of 70%, But Only Manages to Net 607,753 Pounds

Over at Christie's King Street auction rooms the number of lots sold took a sharp upturn with a more active phone bank and commission book. The buy-in rate was only 30.5%. Despite that strong figure, the material could only bring in 607,753 pounds including the premium, or a bit over $900,000, about $230,000 under the Sotheby's total. Christie's also had 34 more lots than Sotheby's. Some notable items sold but several big pieces, including two of the three front cover lots, remained unsold. Again, all the lots below include the buyer's premium.

The first big lot of the sale, which turned out to be Christie's top lot of the auction, was--like at Sotheby's--a French daguerreotype. This rare still life of plaster casts of statues and plaques by Baron Armand Pierre-Seguier was dated Avril 1847, but Christie's and others who viewed the whole-plate dag thought the image was made much earlier, perhaps before 1842. The estimate of 20,000-30,000 pounds was clearly designed to tempt bidders, and it did. American dealers Keith de Lellis and William Schaeffer found themselves bidding against each other and then the phone. Ultimately the phone won. The price was still a reasonable (for the object) 53,775 pounds.

The photography family Llewelyn provided the next two big lots in the sale. I took a mixed album of photographs and watercolors with a Maskelyne provenance for 11,352 pounds. The album had some nice images by Nevil Story Maskelyne, John Dillwyn Llewelyn and other early photographers. It was the ninth highest price for a lot in the sale. Hans Kraus underbid me.

The next lot up was a very sweet and unusual album of miniature images by Mary Dillwyn, which were only 2-3/8 x 1-3/4 in. (6 x 4.5 cm.). The album of 42 salt and one albumen print was in a fragile paper format and contained family portraits, still lifes and studies of fowl. The latter images were the most interesting of the group. The estimate was admittedly a come-on at only 9,000-12,000 pounds--even for this petite-sized group. Early on a commission bidder and others set the pace, but, as the bidding continued, it became a race between dealer Hans Kraus and Lee Marks, who was bidding for collector Howard Stein. With Stein's deep pockets, Marks took home the prize at 47,800 pounds, which was the second highest priced lot of the day.

Continuing on this theme, I took the following lot, which was a group of manuscripts by Thereza Story Maskelyn (nee Llewelyn).

The Reverend Calvert Jones lots stirred a bit of controversy, especially on lot 26. The lot, which is actually half of a panorama, looked so good that several observers thought it might be a fake. The watermark was 1846 though and I felt it was a good piece--just a great print. Obviously Hans Kraus felt the same way. He took the lot for 9,560 pounds over my underbid. The other Calvert Jones (lot 27) was a tad light, but still ok. It sold to the room for 4,780 pounds.

The next big lot to go up was a wonderful album of 58 Rejlander prints. The estimate was silly at 800-1,200 pounds. While they were copy prints, these were made by O.G. Rejlander himself or his wife, who often printed for him and may have actually photographed some of the important images attributed to him. Daniella Dangoor was bidding this item up for us in the front row. I was sitting directly behind Ken Jacobson near the back row as he started to bid against Dangoor. Dangoor won at 10,157 pounds, a bit over $15,000--a tremendous bargain given the retail value of the individual prints. It was the tenth highest price of the day. By coincidence I happened to know exactly whom Jacobson was likely to be bidding for. He had won a similar album for Princeton University over 10 years ago--one that I still berate myself for not bidding on then. I felt that the two albums belonged together, and so, after discussing it with Dangoor, offered it to them through Jacobson. Princeton is soon to be the proud possessor of its second very important Rejlander album. Sometimes you have to put aside business priorities and greater profitability in order to facilitate what you know to be an important and appropriate acquisition. Fortunately, I had a partner in Daniella Dangoor who agrees with this philosophy.

The group of Julia M. Camerons at Christie's was definitely a step up from the ones in the Sotheby's sale. The first (lot 44, Mary Mother) sold for 7,767 pounds or nearly $11,000. The print was ok, but not great.

The next lot was The Dream by Cameron, which, while it needed conservation work, was a very good print indeed. It became a battle between phones, Hans Kraus and others in the room. One of the phones took it in the end for a whopping 22,705 pounds over an original estimate of only 6,000-9,000 pounds.

A George Frederick Watts portrait by Cameron (lot 46) then sold to the phones for 5,975 pounds. A nice cabinet photo (not a cdv as described in the catalogue) of Little Margie (lot 47) sold to the room for 1,553 pounds. A carte-de-visite sized Turtle Doves then sold for the same amount to the same phone bidder who took the Dream. Finally two mediocre prints (lot 49) by Cameron sold to the room for 1,195 pounds.

One lot that Christie's obviously hoped would sell was the Gustave Le Gray of the Pont du Carrousel, Paris (lot 59). It was actually better than I had expected. It was less yellow than the catalogue and presented decently. Another copy, albeit a rich purple print, had sold for 2-3/4 million French francs (about $400,000 at the time) last winter in Paris. This print was estimated at a more reasonable 60,000-80,000 pounds. Even after a belabored prompting from the auctioneer who was clearly reticent to move on without selling this piece, the lot could not find a single bidder and was bought in at 40,000 pounds. That is the difference between a compelling Le Gray and one that is merely good in today's market.

The very good group of individual James Anderson's and those prints attributed to him (lots 61-65) sold for solid prices ranging up to 6,572 pounds (nearly $10,000), with the lowest at 1,195 pounds.

Another cover lot that was bought in was an excellent, but terribly overpriced group of William Stillman prints of Athens with the key image missing (lot 75). This was the smaller albumen print album, which just does not have the presence of the bigger carbon prints. The estimate of 25,000-30,000 pounds was way too high for this work. The lot was bought in at 15,000 pounds--still about double what I think it may actually be worth at auction.

The Queen's Bible by Francis Frith (lot 91) got a quick estimate change (upwards) from 12,000-16,000 to 20,000-25,000 pounds. It sold in the room for 23,302 pounds.

Lot 134, a very good mixed album of Indian, Japanese and American views sold to the phone for a total of 16,730 pounds over London dealer Sebastian Dobson's valiant attempt.

Several volumes of Edwin Hale Lincoln's flowers were sold to the same phone bidder. Lots 147-150 were sold for 8,365, 11,950, 8,365 and 5,975 pounds respectively. All went close to their lower estimates.

A beautiful Robert Demachy nude called Struggle, indeed did just that and failed to sell at a 13,000-pound buy-in level. The estimate was a very reaching 20,000-25,000 pounds.

Two portraits of the Duchess of Windsor by Man Ray sold to the phone for 17,925 pounds. The estimate was only 8,000-12,000 pounds. Richard Avedon's portrait of the Duchess and her duke did not do quite as well: it bought in at 3,000 pounds.

We all broke for a well-deserved lunch at that point. When we returned, the afternoon session was even more lightly attended than the morning session. Most of the action came from the phones, and there really were few lots of note.

As I mentioned in the Sotheby's section, lot 185, the Man Ray portfolio of Electricite, failed to sell here, even though it was to my eyes clearly a superior portfolio to the one that did sell at Sotheby's for a mere 500 pounds less than the closing bid here. It did, however, get several bids before being bought in at 17,500 pounds. There seemed to be considerable interest after the sale on this item, but I am not sure it actually got a firm acceptable offer.

I thought I might bid on lot 203, an Edward Steichen Nude Torso--at least until I actually viewed it. It had a hard crease right through the middle of the print. Again, another reason to preview or have someone preview for you. It sold, not surprisingly, to the phone for 2,868 pounds.

There was considerable interest in a group of Andre Kertesz prints from the Manchester Collection. With a few exceptions most sold to the phone. Despite the light crowd, only two out of the 39 prints from this group failed to find a buyer, thereby dramatically helping Christie's sell rate on this auction. The prices were reasonable but the condition of the prints varied dramatically. There were lots of dealer comments in the room about the phone buyers' aggressive bidding for lots with reported problems.

The only other big lot of the afternoon was lot 262, an Irving Penn of Picasso, which sold for 14,340 pounds to a French-speaking phone bidder. The same phone bidder took the next lot of Three Dahomey Women (I) by Penn. Penn has been very hot lately with his nude show at the NY Metropolitan and a new world record at the last Sotheby's NY sale.

Contemporary seem to hold their own during the rest of the sale, as Christie's finished up the day.