Capital gains: The wider choice available in the London auction scene


by Roland Arkell, Deputy Editor of Antiques Trade Gazette

The capital’s auction scene has seldom seemed more dynamic.

A generation or more ago the UK’s international fine art auction houses used a broad brush and satellite rooms to capture most elements of the market within the M25. However, slowly but surely, since the turn of the 21st century, London has once again become a hive of multi-venue auction activity.

In 2019, the choice is bigger than ever before – and the market is big enough to cope with it all.

Minimum lot values hardly sound the stuff of a saleroom revolution. And yet this exercise in number-crunching – the financial thresholds at which auction houses are willing to accept items for sale – is at the heart of discernible change in the London landscape.

In the knowledge that half a dozen blue-chip pictures can make the difference between a good and an indifferent year, the business model of the so-called ‘big four’ is now to expend more effort in securing fewer, but higher-value, items for sale.

It’s why this summer, visitors to Mayfair, Knightsbridge and St James’s will be able to marvel at showpiece sales of objects from the top 1% of the art and antiques market. Where else could you find a miniature table clock made by Thomas Tompion for Queen Mary II (estimate £2m-3m at Bonhams on June 19) or a rediscovered element from the Lewis Chessmen hoard (estimate £600,000-1m at Sotheby’s on July 2)?

Mere mortals who share the art and antiques collecting bug would do well to look at the city’s wide array of ‘middle market’ auction houses for the full panoply of objects on offer where the entry level is £50 rather than £5000… read mor