On the block— Global


London’s Phillips de Pury Chicago’s Wright, Sweden’s Örnsbergsauktionen and Berlin-based online auction house Auctionata are put under the Monocle microscope. We look at how the auction design industry is keeping pace in the 21st century.

Auction houses, Philips de Pury, Wright, Örnsbergsauktionen

To the casual observer the auction industry might seem detached from reality. And it’s easy to understand why. Cast your mind back to September 2008 when the world woke up to news that Lehman Brothers had filed for bankruptcy and the very next day Damien Hirst sold 218 artworks at a Sotheby’s sale in London for a record £111m (€130m). In the subsequent years of economic distress, the press has pounced on top lot sales, pictured next to white-gloved interns as if to emphasise the gap between the haves and have nots.

It’s a disparity that’s arguably…

Use your gut instinct: We feel passionate about what we’re selling. If we don’t believe in something, then what’s the point?
Don’t burn bridges: The most powerful thing is our relationships with buyers.
Don’t overvalue things: Pay the object respect. The estimate is the frame in which you view a piece.
Use your eyes: I like to look at the object first and then learn. People can be led too much by a name.
People skills: You can’t force people to sell but when they are ready, they’ll move quickly.

Design online

The world’s first completely online auction house launched in June last year. Berlin-based Auctionata offers two types of trade – live online auctions and a curated, fixed-price gallery. The inaugural auction of 20th-century design attracted 1,000 visits to Auctionata’s website.

“We offer buyers the comfort of bidding from their living room,” says founder Alexander Zacke who’s been in the auction business for 21 years. “We also give a 25-year authenticity guarantee.”

Launching what was considered unthinkable in the design auction business until recently, Zacke has 15 in-house IT staff. “You need a reliable, sophisticated software. Big houses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s can afford this but they accept only high priced items for their online auctions, whereas our lots start at €100,” he says.

What sets Auctionata apart is Zacke’s international network of over 200 evaluation experts. “‘Curation’ is the magic word for us – we can rely on highly knowledgeable, trustworthy experts for it.”

With 2,000 registered clients, €250,000 gross merchandise volume and users from 80 countries, the magic seems to be working commercially. Auctionata is not unlike a design version of eBay (Zacke did spend eight years there before launching it), but still there’s no doubt the model has a market for people looking to sell and buy things quickly and remotely.


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