In any auction, objects will have been brought together from numerous sources. There will be treasures that have been in the same family for a long time; other items that have travelled with their owners form country to country; some from dealer to dealer; others from auction to auction; many will have travelled from century to century.
All of these items form a large family of strangers where, for example, the Chinese vase (which learned English during its long stay in the country) shares its tales with a George II mahogany demi-lune tea table and with the French clock in gilt bronze. But soon the ‘family’, which has only recently met and become familiar, will be scattered again and taken away to an antiques shop or to a new family or perhaps even to a museum where they will meet other ‘relatives and friends’.
In the past, upon arriving at an auction, you were met by a very different sort of audience: over there a stately countess with a bird’s beak sits with her lorgnettes. Beside her, a banker and a baron are alongside the city’s most remarkable art and antiques dealer. Closer to the podium, where the objects are displayed by the auction house’s porters, some regular customers take their seats, as well as representatives of museums or perhaps those who were just a little hard of hearing.
The auctioneer would sit up above them in his rostrum. His trained voice, at once penetrating and a little dry but quite clear, echoed throughout the hall. His ear caught every command, as reliable as a radio antenna; and his eye noted the slightest movement of a finger or of a pen, each raised only a fraction to make the subtlest indication of a bid. When the auctioneer acknowledged the bid his voice had a sonorous authority – and carried a slight smile of gratitude, of course.
Today it all looks so different. The audience is still there, the bidders are there too – they remain as much the same as before though far more plentiful these dates – but now the bidding takes place online. The banker sits at his large desk, perhaps in New York, perhaps in Paris, perhaps in London. The collector with a passion for fashion is sitting in a cafe in Soho and has found a nice object that she would like to show off in her blog. The countess with her gold lorgnettes is seated in her stately home and the town’s antiques dealer is bidding efficiently with his mobile phone on the bus as it rolls through town. All of them are involved in today’s timed online auctions.
George III giltwood wall mirrors, paintings by Gainsborough, prints by Hockney, silverware, porcelain from all eras, fine jewels, dining chairs from the homes of noblemen all end their journey with a new destination. New travels for old treasures have begun. Perhaps the objects will meet again someday, just like old friends, in a new place and for a new generation and each will speak silently of its own wandering across the great expanse of the auction world.
Words by Tom Österman, Senior client Executive at Auctionet.