National Attention/Auction Excitement
© Becky Linhardt 2013
Maybe you have watch the PBS programs Antique Roadshow, History Detectives, or their newest – Market Warriors. Cincinnati has a connection to these programs through resident and business owner, Wes Cowan. His high-end auction house is located in a new industrial park here in the Cincinnati area.
Did you know you can visit his home base, Cowan’s Auctions, that has been featured recently in some segments of Market Warriors? Or, that you can get a free auction estimate? This was new information to me and this is my home town. I watch the PBS programs but I usually visit thrift stores and antique malls. I did take some items to Antiques Roadshow Cincinnati this year. However, I had never attended an antiques auction.
On a press tour that included Cowan’s Auctions I was able to see a bit of the behind the scenes activities and learned about the huge staff that pulls things together for each auction. First there are evaluations and a decision to accept an item for auction (Antiques Auctions – Buying and Selling). Once an item or lot of items is accepted, a description is written, photographs are taken (two full time staff photographers I was told), a catalog is produced, and marketing is initiated to attract a large audience to secure the highest price possible for the seller – and a profit to support the business.
My background in Interior Design had not included much residential work, no searching for art or furnishings for clients. I had seen a portion of a smallish auction at Cowan’s Auctions on an early PBS Market Warriors segment. It was now time for me to see for myself what the auction experience was all about. I chose to attend the March 9, 2013 Fine and Decorative Art Auction since it was a logical match to my interests. Items to be included in the auction can be viewed online. I reviewed Oriental and fine silver decorative items and had a list of numbers I might bid on that day.
The excitement at Cowan’s Auctions happens on auction days, generally on a Saturday. Auctions are themed, some held once a year and some categories such as Decorative Arts have 2-3 auctions each year. This makes it easier for potential bidders to target their area of interest with bids in person, phoning in, or online. Before the auction there is an “exhibition” of the items for sale. This period, generally two hours before the sale allows potential buyers to view the items and note the lot numbers of interest to them. Numerous staff members have access to the glass cases if you want to inspect an item more closely.
The March 9, 2013 Auction started on time with a series of announcements about the process and the rules. The first item was of interest to me so I bid early but dropped out as the bidding went beyond the limit I had imposed upon myself. After years of seeing auctioneer in films rattling off what seemed like incomprehensible jargon I was delighted that words were clear and understandable.
Occasionally, the bidding was slowed by phone and online bids process. However, as Wes Cowan said when the bidding slowed, “Online and phone bids may slow things down but it does increase the audience and bring higher prices for the seller.”
Did I make a purchase? Yes, a Chinese export dresser that I thought was out of my price range when I looked at it in the catalog but sold, to me, for much less than the auction estimate. There were a lot of items so it was going to be a long auction day. As I paid for my purchase I placed an absentee bid for a jade bell that would be up for bid much later in the afternoon. That sold for a price higher than my bid.
Free Auction Estimates
Once I had the experience of attending an auction I felt more comfortable setting an appointment to receive a free auction estimate. From my family I had a number of prints of the Cincinnatiarea that I had tried to research but could not find any information online.
I arrived at Cowan’s Auctions to meet the appraiser carrying six framed George Williams prints of Cincinnati scenes and a small print of the Cincinnati riverfront from the Northern Kentucky side of the Ohio River that looked old. We placed the prints on the big table under strong light. The appraiser right away identified the George Williams prints as commonly found and not of much worth. He gently let me know that maybe, since the prints were framed nicely, they might sell as a set for about $200 but were not something that the auction house would accept (no strong market).
The little print though caught his eye. He told me that it was a clipping from Harper’s, probably in the 1880’s, and pointed out some lines I had not noticed, a bit of bleed through from text on the other side. He admired the hand-lined details on the matting and said that it might bring about $200 at auction but did not offer me a contract. That was fine with me. I had always been a bit partial to the small print and now I knew more about it. Though it might have been nice to hear that the set of six prints were valuable, the hallway looked so bare when I wrapped them to take to the auction house that I wondered how I would live without them if they had a potentially high auction estimate. Some things you just become attached to in ways that touch your heart.
May you find treasures at auction that you love – at a bid price you can afford!
Cowan’s Auctions:6270 Este Avenue,Cincinnati,OH 45232
513-871-1670 or www.cowans.com