Where do you go when you want to purchase a Van Gogh original, a Model T Ford (the “Tin Lizzy”) or a 1913 Liberty Head nickel? The answer is not K-Mart. Famous works of art, antique luxury items and a whole host of other hard to find (and certified) artifacts are bought up each year at auction houses across the globe. These institutions, some of which are centuries old, are the most trusted places to go for the highest end antiquities. Due to the open nature of the auctions held, any person who wants to connect to otherwise insular and specialized markets has the opportunity to do so (as long as they have the capital). Since reaching the new millennium, numerous auction houses not only have sundry locations, on multiple continents, but also conduct a key amount of business online as well.
This is not just a million dollar industry, it’s a billion dollar one.
The China Guardian (China) – founded 1993
As China’s overall economy has continued to boom, it’s luxury market has grown in tow. Specializing in Asian art, one of the leading international auction houses is the China Guardian, which rests in the capital city of Beijing. Bolstered by the sale of famed water color master Qi Baishi’s painting “Album of Mountains and Rivers” in 2012, the Guardian swiftly rose to international prominence. 2013 saw the house wrangle a groundbreaking $5.86 billion in sales, indelibly putting it on the famed auction house map.
Poly International Auction Company (China) – founded 2005
Reigning supreme as China’s grandest and most influential auction house is the PIAC. A remarkably quick rise to the top, PIAC surged past the China Guardian and has become synonymous with Eastern high market luxury sales. PIAC’s vast collection of riches is mostly made up of fine and ancient art, but also includes more eccentric items such as scarce books and manuscripts, wines, timepieces and apparatuses of a scientific nature. Raking in an astounding $7.88 billion last year, and with offices popping up on various continents, the PIAC is truly an international juggernaut.
Heritage Auctions (U.S.) – founded 1976
Billed as the most massive collectibles house on the globe, Heritage Auctions has a distinctly American feel to it. It’s home base is in Dallas, Texas (and has never moved), and the items they exhibit read like a wish list of a United States memorabilia-historian: coins, comic books, graphic novels, WWII, WWI and Civil War relics, astronaut and space related objects, and a variety of other hard to find and pricy souvenirs. Having catapulted into the new millennium, Heritage closes almost half of its sales online. Per month, they have 725,000 visitors to their site (and clearly a well functioning server), which is more than triple what other leading auction houses get. Heritage brought in $917 million last year.
Sotheby’s (United Kingdom) – founded 1744
One of the premier names in major auction houses, Sotheby’s has a long and storied history. After centuries spent reigning over the art and jewelry world in England, they eventually crossed all bodies of water and established chapters in 40 different countries. Sotheby’s deals not only in fine art and antiques, but has a thriving real estate division that caters to the super elite. Sotheby’s pulled in $5.2 billion in total sales in 2013, which doesn’t even include the sale of Edvard Munch’s The Scream in 2012, for just shy of $120 million (at the time, a record breaker).
Christie’s (United Kingdom) – founded 1766
Londoner James Christie probably had no idea of the magnitude his auction house would reach when he first began orchestrating luxury sales during the 18th century. Now with offices in 43 countries, including the 2 main locations in New York City and London, Christie’s continuously and consistently sees the highest profit margins of any auction house. 2013 was a particularly good year for Christie’s, as they earned $6.18 billion (this did include the current record holder for most money ever collected for a work of art: $142.4 million for Francis Bacon’s 1969 triptych Three Studies of Lucian Freud). Still esteemed as the number one auction house in the world, Christie’s reputation was able to remain fairly untarnished after an FBI conducted investigation of price-fixing with Sotheby’s in 2000.
The prime aspect common to all these auction houses that Diamond Lighthouse fully endorses is their open, fair market policy. The bidding system that we have in place mirrors that of established auction houses big and small; any reputable person can place offers, and the seller is free to choose the highest, at their discretion.
Learn how you too can enjoy the benefits of the free market here.