Issue #60  7/21/2003
Christie's Follows Up Girault De Prangey Dag Sale With Solid Effort in Regular Sale: Over $1.8 Million and 68% Sold By Lot

After the world record-setting Girault de Prangey daguerreotype sale, there was bound to be a little letdown in the regular spring sales, but both Christie's and Sotheby's London continued to post up solid numbers.

Christie's followed up with a sale that easily broke into seven figures. At over 1.1 million pound sterling (or over $1.8 million), the regular sale at King Street set some world auction records of its own for the work of Alvin Langdon Coburn and Benjamin Brecknell Turner. A partial set of Louis Rousselet's two-album Voyage dans l'Inde sold for a record as well.

I should note that all prices below include the buyer's premium and that the pound sterling was about $1.65 during the sale (although Christie's P.R. release says it was $1.641) and now a bit higher still. I paid $1.67 when I actually paid for my lots. And, for the most part, I have confined myself to lots that sold for over £10,000.

While there were some nice images and some great 19th-century buys early on, the first lot to break into the upper zones was a great Benjamin Brecknell Turner of "Walter Chamberlain hiding behind Bredicot pump" (lot 28). The image had some small developer-stained areas, but these could easily be retouched on the salt print. It soared on active bidding from collector Michael Mattis, NY dealer Hans Kraus and finally English buyer Timothy Prus. It was Prus who scooped up this lot for a world-record auction price of £38,240 (about $63,000) over an estimate of only £10,000-15,000. At that price, the lot tied for eighth place in this auction's top ten most expensive lots and set a new world auction record for Brecknell.

Prus also bought lot 30, another Brecknell but a more typical landscape of a tree-lined road, for £20,315 over the bid of dealer Hans Kraus and over the estimate of £6,000-8,000--good enough for last place on Christie's top ten list. Prus then picked up his third Brecknell of the day (lot 31) for a hefty premium over the estimate. This Brecknell cost Prus £8,962 over a tiny estimate of only £800-1,200, or about 11 times the low estimate.

The next lot was bound to draw some heavy bidding and it did. Lot 32, an album of large Roger Fenton and James Robertson images of the Crimea, was in better shape than you usually see such albums. Many of the prints were quite rich. Estimated at only £20,000-30,000, the lot drew heavy fire in the room from two determined bidders. A private collector in the room finally snagged it for £156,450 (over $258,000), which made this the highest priced lot of the sale.

Lot 33, a fine group of smaller Fenton Crimean portraits, then sold to NY dealer Hans Kraus for £59,750, against another estimate of £20,000-30,000. That price made the lot the seventh most expensive of the day.

Another Fenton, lot 36, an Orientalist study of a water carrier giving water to another man, sold to 19th-century photography collector Michael Sachs over strong phone bids. Estimated at £12,000-18,000, Sachs had to pay £38,240, about triple the low estimate, to get this lot, which pushed it into a tie for eighth on Christie's top ten list.

Oddly enough the next lot, another Orientalist study, passed at £8,500. It was not, however, a particular good print (not a terrible one though either), although it looked good in the catalogue.

A bunch of very mediocre (at best) Julia Margaret Camerons either passed or sold very low. It seems the Camerons that are coming on the market fall into two categories at present: either terrible condition or too high prices. More on this during the Sotheby's London report.

Likewise, the Alexis de LaGrange prints were in generally poor condition (foxing, spotting, mottling, perhaps possibly even bleached cleaned). They passed or went to the phone.

Lot 95 was a great Linnaeus Tripe Temple Study in Madura. It sold very reasonably to a commission bidder for only £11,352, against an estimate of £12,000-15,000. This was a "steal" for this quality of image and print.

Lot 96, Louis Rousselet's scarce Voyage dans l'Inde (two albums with 155 out of 160 albumen prints), sold to the phone for its low estimate (plus premium) of £71,700 (about $118,000). That price was good enough for a new world record for a group by the artist (I am not a fan of these "group records") and also good enough for fifth highest priced lot of the day.

Most of the real excitement of the day was focused on the four Alvin Langdon Coburn vortographs (lots 120-123), which came from the estate of a close friend of Coburn. They were quite beautiful and appeared to be in fine condition, so we were definitely going to be "off to the races" on these lots.

For me the first lot was clearly the most beautiful of the group. Christie's had estimated it at a reasonable £60,000-80,000. Early on it seemed to be a war zone for dealers. First Janet Lehr, then Edwynn Houk, and finally Robert Koch, but then the phones started to come in. Finally phone bidder 918 took the prize over San Francisco dealer Robert Koch for a whopping £139,650 (about $230,000), which set a new world auction record for Coburn and made this the second highest priced lot in this sale.

Then Houk, who was reportedly bidding for a quartet of dealers including himself, Charles Isaacs, Hans Kraus and Paul Hertzmann, really made his presence felt. He swept up the remaining three Coburns. Lot 121 sold to him for £100,450 (about $165,000) over dealer Robert Koch's underbid. That was good enough for third place on Christie's top ten list. Then Houk took lot 122, an unsigned print, for £65,725 (about $108,000) over a phone bidder--good enough for sixth place on the list. Finally, Houk finished off by overbidding Robert Koch for the fourth Coburn, unsigned but my second favorite Coburn image, at £89,250 (about $147,000). That price pushed the lot into fourth place on the top ten list.

German dealer Hendrik Berinson picked up a pair of Dada images relating to the Arps. The first, lot 124 of Sophie Taeuber Arp behind Dada head, estimated at £3,000-5,000, sold for £11,352. Berinson had to battle the phones and dealer Robert Koch. On the second (lot 125) of Jean Arp with cardboard monocle, Berinson had to go to £13,145 against a tiny estimate of only £900-1,200. That is over 14 times low estimate.

The rest of the sale closed out with lots of lower priced lots with a number of great bargains.

Christie's had to be pleased with the production from its two photo auctions here. Nearly £5 million or over $8 million dollars was sold in the two sales, making this perhaps the best one-week take ever for Christie's London's photography sales.