Auction Preview: Vintage & Contemporary Photography, April 18, 2009 @Heritage

Heritage Auction Galleries of Dallas, TX, entered the photography auction market last December with its inaugural sale, and is following up that effort with a solid offering this spring. In a time when consignments are scarce, it is quite surprising to see a new entrant deliver a big catalog with 293 lots of decent work. Lorraine Davis is leading the photography department at Heritage, and it appears that they are taking dead aim at Swann Galleries and the lower end of what Sotheby’s and Christie’s used to take, scooping up a broad and eclectic mix of lower end lots.

The sale itself has some intriguing blocks of images: 47 lots of dance pictures by Barbara Morgan, 63 lots of Central European modernity (including several Kicken portfolios), 3 NASA multi-panel panoramas, and several strong works by Robert Frank. While there is virtually no 19th century material, and the contemporary work is pretty thin, the sale has plenty of 20th century imagery worth digging through.
Heritage has a few quirks in its process worth mentioning. First, the catalog doesn’t have estimate ranges. Instead, “Minimum Bid” amounts are listed. These amount to the reserve price, and are often much lower than the normal price range for a specific image, sometimes set at zero (as an example, there are two Ed Ruscha images, recent prints of 1960s negatives, with a Gagosian provenance, with minimum bids of zero; it seems pretty unlikely that these will sell for fifty bucks each). While estimates are available from the department, there isn’t any public signalling about where the images “ought” to sell. On the positive side, there isn’t any subterfuge about the reserve, and no chandelier bids on behalf of the seller; if you bid the minimum and there are no other bids, you win. On the negative side, the buyer must do more homework to get comfortable about his/her bidding strategy (which he/she would likely have done anyway in most cases), assuming that the end price for many lots will have little or no relationship to the minimum bid price quoted.
The second quirk has to do with shipping. Heritage doesn’t do its own shipping; all they do is connect a buyer with a list of third party shippers (the local UPS store etc.). Buyers have to contact the third party shipper, make arrangements/payment directly, and have the lot released from Heritage to the shipper for packing etc. From my perspective, this is a MAJOR negative. While most times this will work adequately, this set-up introduces the potential for significant additional hassle and screw ups, for which Heritage takes no responsibility. We will have to do meaningful extra work to bird dog the process, which we have no interest in doing. As such, we will certainly bid on less lots at Heritage until this changes. Only those lots which we are extremely interested in will merit this potential headache.
Given the lack of estimates, our usual statistical analysis can’t be done as easily. As such, we’ve made a simple change: an $8000 minimum bid price will be the break point between Low and Mid (somewhat equivalent to our usual $10000 high estimate break point). The highest minimum price is $20000, which isn’t close enough to our normal $50000 break point for High lots, so there are no High lots in this sale by these definitions. There are a total of 293 lots of offer, with a total minimum bid price of $648500. Here’s the adjusted breakdown:
Total Low lots (minimum bid below $8000): 275
Total Low estimate (sum of minimum bids): $467500
Total Mid lots (minimum bid between $8000 and $40000): 18
Total Mid estimate: $181000
Total High lots (minimum bid above $40000): 0
Total High estimate: NA
For our particular collection, we liked the Margaret Bourke-White transmitting towers (lots 75024 and 75025), the Aaron Siskind wrought iron railing (lot 75026), the Ludwig Windstosser scaffolding (lot 75217), the Albert RengerPatzsch tubes (lot 75230), and the Ernst Fuhrmann flowers (lots 75270 and 75276).
The lot by lot catalog can be found here.
April 18, 2009

Heritage Auction Galleries

3500 Maple Avenue
17th Floor
Dallas, TX 75219

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