Auction Results: Phillips, Christie’s and Sotheby’s recent sales

There are plenty of places online where you can get summary auction results, and both Alex Novak and Stephen Perloff do a great job of giving the blow by blow of what happened during the major sales in their newsletters, so there is no need to duplicate either of those efforts here. Instead, I thought I would take off my art appreciation hat for the moment and put on my business hat and do some statistical analysis of the sales results to see if we can discern any patterns or draw any interesting conclusions from what has happened so far. I’ve used the data from the first three sales of the season that included photography (Saturday @Phillips London, Christie’s First Open, and Sotheby’s Contemporary Art).

While overall aggregate numbers from the sales can tell us something (and we’ll get to those in a minute), I want to lay out some more explicit definitions for how I have sliced and diced the data. I’ve divided the photography market into three categories, as defined by lots that have certain high estimate prices prior to the sale. These ranges are:

Low: $10000 and under for the high estimate
Mid: between $10000 and $50000 for the high estimate
High: above $50000 for the high estimate

While we might quibble about where these break points are, I think they generally reflect the behavior of the majority of buyers. (For the London sale, executed in pounds, I have converted to dollars to make the items comparable.) So for each sale, I have divided the photography lots into these groups, tallied estimates, actual sales, and buy ins, and then generated some comparative percentages. (Blogger doesn’t seem to support tables or charts, so please bear with the row by row data presenatation below.)

So let’s start with Christie’s:

Total Lots 238
Photo Lots 29
Photo Lot % 12.18%
Photo Lots Sold 21
Photo Lots Bought In 8
Photo Buy In % 27.59%

Total Sale Total $6507800
Photo Sale Total $1368250
Photo $ % 21.02%

So given that the photography accounted for 12% of the lots but 21% of the sales, the contemporary photography clearly held its own in this sale.

Now the segmentation:

Low Total Lots 6
Low Sold 4
Low Bought In 2
Buy In % 33.33%

Total Low Estimate $46000 (the sum of all the high estimates of these specific lots)
Total Low Sold $62500 (the sum of the actual sales for these specific lots)

Mid Total Lots 21
Mid Sold 16
Mid Bought In 5
Buy In % 23.81%

Total Mid Estimate $431000
Total Mid Sold $403250

High Total Lots 2
High Sold 1
High Bought In 1
Buy In % 50.00%

Total High Estimate $570000
Total High Sold $902500

My conclusions from this data are that the Low and Mid ranges did quite well in this sale, and Cindy Sherman carried the High (her one lot sold for the entire High sum) and made the total numbers look even better overall. I’m guessing the folks at Christie’s are generally happy with this.

Here’s Sotheby’s:

Total Lots 418
Photo Lots 21
Photo Lot % 5.02%
Photo Lots Sold 18
Photo Lots Bought In 3
Photo Buy In % 16.67%

Total Sale Total $10556940
Photo Sale Total $286875
Photo $ % 2.72%

In this sale, the contemporary photography did not pull its weight (lot % higher than sale %), but in general it was a small number against the whole.

Here’s the segmentation:

Low Total Lots 6
Low Sold 4
Low Bought In 2
Buy In % 33.33%

Total Low Estimate $45000
Total Low Sold $23125

Mid Total Lots 15
Mid Sold 14
Mid Bought In 1
Buy In % 6.67%

Total Mid Estimate $266000
Total Mid Sold $263750

There were no High lots in this sale. So here, the Low end didn’t perform well, but the Mid range was solid.

And finally Phillips (converted to dollars):

Total Lots 454
Photo Lots 96
Photo % 21.15%
Photo Lots Sold 59
Photo Lots Bought In 37
Photo Buy In % 38.54%

Total Sale Total $1173326
Photo Sale Total $251208
Photo $ % 21.41%

In this sale, even with a high buy-in percentage, the photography appeared to carry its weight, with the lot % and the sale % almost exactly equal.

Here’s the segmentation:

Low Total Lots 87
Low Sold 54
Low Bought In 33
Buy In % 37.93%

Total Low Estimate $318200
Total Low Sold $173708

Mid Total Lots 9
Mid Sold 5
Mid Bought In 4
Buy In % 44.44%

Total Mid Estimate $164000
Total Mid Sold $77500

There were no High lots in this sale. These numbers show that both the Low and Mid ranges underperformed in this sale, and the buy-in rates were high. This must have been a bit of a disappointment for Phillips.

So what does all this tell us? Here are a few potential conclusions about the market, potentially supported by the very few data points above:

  • The High end is still hot, driven by the trophy lots that continue to get bid up.
  • The Mid range seems generally solid across the board, with pockets of weakness based on variation in material.
  • The Low end seems to have more pervasive uncertainty and softness, again driven by variation in the quality of material up for sale.

If you draw other conclusions or think I should consider other ways to look at the data, that’s what the Comments section is for…

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