The month of August is traditionally a quiet time on the auction calendar, and those sales that do take place are often sleepy affairs. “No one wants to venture into the city when it’s a steamy 98°,” says James D. Julia, whose eponymous auction firm is located in Fairfield, Maine. “All the serious collectors are in their summer homes, whether on the Maine coast or on islands like Isleboro.”
Increasingly, however, the auctions are moving to holiday locations. These days many lots are being hammered down during August at auction houses located in American holiday venues such as the island of Nantucket and a host of New England seaside towns. Even in the south of France, some of the smaller auctioneers in Cannes, for example, are finding their summer sales more popular than they used to be.
Julia says his August sale, which this year takes place on August 28-30 at the Samoset Resort in Rockport, Maine, now routinely makes more than $4m, up from $1m five years ago. Clients for these sales, he says, “are bidding up furnishings from 19th-century portraits to Victorian bedroom sets and baskets for their summer homes”. He also finds a strong market for Americana such as chunky carved eagles and militia drums.
Ron Bourgeault, an auction veteran with more than 20 years of experience, heads up Northeast Auctions in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. He, too, has built up his annual August sales, and a variety of antique shows now cluster around his Americana sales (slated this year for August 3-5). These include the Mid-Week in Manchester Antiques Show, with 110 Americana and folk art dealers, to be held in Bedford, NH, from August 8-9, and the Americana Celebration Antique Show & Sale in Deerfield with 150 dealers (August 7).
Bourgeault says his summer sales also attract a number of British and Asian clients, the latter driving a market for Chinese porcelain.
On August 9, the 50th annual New Hampshire Antiques Dealers Association Golden Anniversary Show will debut in Manchester with 325 dealers on hand to showcase their wares. “They call it midsummer madness,” says Bourgeault.
For Bourgeault, the August sales now make some $12m, which represents about two-thirds of his annual turnover. “It’s instant gratification,” he says of his August sales. “Buyers can snap up nautical antiques or painted furniture, pack them into their recreational vehicles and head back to their waterfront homes all in the same day.”
Many of these clients are hedge-fund managers, says Bourgeault, who estimates that these holiday purchases will end up in coastal retreats or Vermont ski lodges.
Of course, financial heavyweights are not the only buyers; dealers also buy heavily. Last August, Todd Prickett of the Yardley, Pennsylvania-based C.L. Prickett, beat a dozen other bidders to buy an 1882 copper weathervane in the shape of a steam locomotive, complete with coal car, and set a world record ($1,216,000) in the process.
The design and decorating brigade often find themselves in competition for buying country furniture. Bourgeault saw one decorator snare 100 lots, from early painted cupboards to pie safes, all for a single residential commission.
Meanwhile, on Nantucket, 30 miles off the coast of Massachusetts, Rafael Osona holds 10 auctions from June until Labor Day, the first Monday in September. “They’re always packed and the vibrant growth reflects the [tastes of the] owners of homes, yachts and jets here,” says Osona.
Osona, Bourgeault and Julia all report an increasing demand for maritime antiques. Ship figureheads and models, scrimshaw teeth, sailors valentine cards crammed with tiny shells and paintings of clipper ships are among the popular collectables. Especially sought after in Nantucket, however, are pieces linked to the island’s own nautical history, such as the lightship baskets that local sailors made in the 19th century to while away long days at sea (one of these recently made $115,000 at an Osona auction).
In France August sales are lively at the Cannes-based Besch Auction, run by Jean-Pierre Besch. He finds that holidaymakers are keen to buy French talent and that, “oddly enough, the strong euro doesn’t seem to scare away Americans”.
Jean Prouvé’s pared-down furniture, Cartier jewellery – both period and contemporary – and lesser-known French artists such as Auguste Chabaud all attract these holidaymakers.
Besch is holding a wine auction on August 13, and a jewellery sale – in which a diamond Piaget necklace is expected to surpass €300,000 – the next day.