Auction Preview: Inaugural Photographs Sale, October 17, 2008 @Bloomsbury New York

As collectors, we see the the entry of Bloomsbury into the New York auction market as nothing but good news. The Gang of Four (Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Phillips and Swann) have had it pretty good in recent years with the expansion of the photography market, and their buyer’s premiums have risen in equal measure (except at Swann). The emergence of a fifth credible player will be good for collectors: more material will be available in the market as a whole, hopefully more top quality work will be uncovered and brought to market in the name of competition, and prices might even out a bit, given Bloomsbury’s 20% buyer’s premium for images under $300000.

Getting going from a cold start is a pretty daunting task. Client lists need to be built, internal infrastructure has to be put in place, and material has to be pried loose from consignors without any track record of prior success. So the fact that this sale has come together at all is a testament to the work of John Cowley and Hannah Hayden, with the help of Rick Wester.

There are a total of 145 lots in this sale, with a total estimate of $2588800. This number is a little misleading in that one lot, the five volume The Countries of the Amur, Eastern Siberia, Western Siberia and the Urals, 1860-1866, carries a high estimate of $1200000, thereby making the rest of the sale worth $1388800.

Here is the breakdown:

Total Low lots (high estimate of $10000 or lower): 118
Total Low estimate (sum of high estimates of Low lots): $733800

Total Mid lots (high estimate between $10000 and $50000): 24
Total Mid estimate: $515000

Total High lots (high estimate above $50000): 3
Total High estimate: $1340000

Except for the Siberian volumes mentioned above (which will swamp the numbers one way or the other), this is a low end sale of mostly mainstream work. There aren’t a lot of surprises or hidden gems here. But in the context of a new entrant, this is a perfectly respectable sale of a broad range of photography.

For our particular collection, there are only a couple of lots that fit well:

  • Lot 9 Lewis Baltz, West Wall, the Ted Pella Company, Space W 109, the Esplanade V, 3001 Redhill, Costa Mesa, 1975
  • Lot 61 Harry Callahan, Chicago, 1949/Later

It is our hope that Bloomsbury will have at least a modest success with this sale and use that momentum to redouble their efforts to dig up great material, so that by next spring, it is a real and meaningful competitor in this market. Along the way, it will need to decide in which niche it wants to play and who it wants to take on directly. It should be fun to watch.

Inaugural Photographs Sale
October 17, 2008

Bloomsbury Auctions
6 West 48th Street
New York, NY 10036

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