Skate’s Market Research is reporting on how the major public components of the art market fared for 2014. The short answer is, not good, and the worst, according to Skate’s, since 2005. This would be particularly worrying for Sotheby’s, since in 2005 it was just trying to dig itself out of the morass of the price fixing scandal that sent Sotheby’s chairman Alfred Taubman and CEO Dede Brooks to jail. In precise terms, at December 31, 2014, a share of Sotheby’s is worth 18.8% less than it was on January 1, 2014.
I had this last July written about China’s Poly Group as a possible, and as it seemed then, likely suitor for London based Bonhams, the third major international house behind Sotheby’s and Christie’s. By mid August, however, nothing more was heard on the subject. Based on the latest figures, however, Poly Group has lost nearly 28% of its value for the year, and one must surmise that the company couldn’t afford Bonham’s.
One other company I had written about was the Stanley Gibbons Group, whose significant acquisition this past year included venerable West End dealer Mallett. Although fairly flush with investor cash that allowed the acquisition, the company nevertheless lost nearly 23% of its value on the year.
While we’re all of us entranced by the occasional extraordinary consignments of Chinese imperial porcelain and European Impressionism and American contemporary art, it occludes the fact that all these businesses must slog along whether they have these elusive consignments or not. For a white, the major houses were limiting their consignments to amounts in excess of $5,000, which, frankly, seems little enough. Lately, though, with links with eBay and so-called design sales, what’s on offer is a duke’s mixture of bottom end material that no member of the accredited trade would ever have on offer. Interestingly, lately I’ve received customer satisfaction surveys from a couple of the salesrooms asking me to rate my purchase experience that for all the world are impossible to tell from the same thing I get after I have my car serviced.
With market cap falling, Sotheby’s CEO Bill Ruprecht on his way out and Christies CEO Steven Murphy gone already, one wonders about the fate of what was formerly the wholesale part of the trade in art and antiques. I hope that, whilst thrashing around looking for revenue and profit enhancement- and not finding it- the major players in the international market for art and antiques will retrench to their halcyon roots, and leave the retail market to the tender mercies of the accredited dealer.