You’re visiting a client’s home when UPS drops off a package. Your client excitedly unpacks it and removes an ornately designed jewelry box. It’s early 19th Century from Austria, she explains, and it was a steal for $5,000 at an online auction.
Collectors used to bid for auction items via telephone. Of course, the Internet has changed all that. All the major auction houses have online-bidding services and websites. Some websites, like 1stdibs.com and curatorseye.com, specialize in online sales of high-end items, including antiques.
Ed Beardsley, vice-president and managing director, Fine & Decorative Arts with Heritage Auctions in Dallas, estimates that over 50% of the company’s business is now done online.
“It allows the sophisticated collector to find pieces that they’ve been looking for throughout the world. I mean we do business with I think 182 countries or similar. And, that’s what we look for,” Beardsley (right) says. “The people who are serious collectors, who want to put something into their collection that they haven’t found. The Internet makes it a smaller world and, as such, they’re willing to look around online at the major sites and in fact ship it to wherever they are.”
That doesn’t mean all categories are drawing top prices, though. As in other collectibles markets, it appears that higher-priced items are drawing more attention than those with lower prices.
Karen Knapstein, editor of Antique Trader magazine in Iola, Wis., says some markets, like that for lower-quality furniture, continue to be soft. Beardsley says interest in 20th Century design is growing, and prices are strong at many of the major sites.
Nineteenth Century continental decorative art has some strong results, but it also has some niches that are “a little bit tricky,” he adds.