Support Marketplace

Going once, going twice: The business of auctions

Auctioneer Jussi Pylkkanen, President & Chairman,Christies Europe,Middle East,Russia & India, selling Roy Lichtenstein, Woman with Flowered Hat  at the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 15 May 2013.

The new profits report from the auction house, Christie’s, would suggest that business is good for auctioneers right now. The 247-year-old company saw a 52 percent increase in sales to new buyers.
 
"The interest and demand for art has really been developing almost exponentially every year for the past several years," says Christie’s CEO Steven Murphy.

Murphy says record-breaking sales and overall growth of their online auction site points to a change in art purchasers in 2013.

"Until about 20 years ago, it was a little, ‘if you build it, they will come’ because the 'they' were dealers," according to Murphy. But now he says only a fifth of people in the room at an auction are dealers.

Meanwhile, the internet has meant buyers from around the world can bid in auctions that were once only limited to those in New York or London.

But in other ways, not much has changed for Christie’s. Murphy says the founder, James Christie, would find much in common with the principles of the auction house in 2013 as when he founded it in the 18th century.


Christie's has had some notable auctions in its long history. Here are some of the memorable and record-breaking ones (Images courtesy of Christie's Images LTD. 2013):

An Apple®-1 motherboard, numbered 01-0025 on the reverse in black ink,
Apple Computer 1 Palo Alto Ca. Copyright 1976
etched on obverse, signed 'Woz' in black ink on breadboard area,
with four rows of components labeled A-D and columns 1-18, three large
filter capacitors, heatsink on +5V regulator, all ICs socketed, MOS
6502 processor marked MOS MCS 6502 1576 in white ceramic package,
cassette board connector, 8k DRAM memory, firmware in two 256 x 4 PROMs.
With: facsimile manual, print of schematics, signed photograph, aftermarket keyboard, and replica unit

Price Realized:  $387,750

Jackson Pollock, Number 19
oil and enamel on paper mounted on canvas

Painted in 1948
Price Realized: $58,363,750
WORLD AUCTION RECORD FOR THE ARTIST


Crick, Francis Harry Compton (1916-2004). Autograph Letter Signed ("Daddy") to his son Michael, outlining the revolutionary discovery of the structure and function of DNA. Cambridge, 19 March 1953.
Price Realized:  $6,059,750
WORLD AUCTION RECORD FOR ANY LETTER


Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, Bt., A.R.A., R.W.S. (1833-1898)
Love among the Ruins
watercolour, bodycolour and gum arabic on paper, extended along the lower edge

Price Realized:  $22,432,117
WORLD AUCTION RECORD FOR THE ARTIST
WORLD AUCTION RECORD FOR PRE-RAPHAELITE WORK

Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997)
Woman with Flowered Hat
Magna on canvas, 50 x 40 in. (127 x 101.6 cm) Executed in 1963.
© Estate of Roy Lichtenstein
Price Realized:  $56,123,750
WORLD AUCTION RECORD FOR THE ARTIST

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...