Online Sales Can Help Auctions Reach Their Full Potential
Altdorfer, John, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
You'll need more than Rudolph's red nose to find a local auction this week. Most of the area's houses are quiet for the holidays -- aside from J.S. Dill ringing in 2008 with its annual New Year's Day bash.
Instead of the usual roundup of sales, we'll take a look at how the Internet is changing the way area auctioneers do business.
Just about everyone is tangled in the World Wide Web. According to Internet World Stats -- an online Web usage research group -- more than 211 million Americans log online to download music, e- mail friends, buy gifts, work from home and, yes, search for auction sites. It's no wonder, then, that most area, national and international auction houses are leaving a footprint or two on the Internet for potential bidders to follow.
Locally, the gamut ranges from straightforward photographs of sales items to fully integrated, live-time online sales and bidding. Most houses operate a dedicated site devoted strictly to their services. Along with their own sites, many auctioneers also list goods on a service called Auctionzip.com, a search engine that allows users to look for specific items within a certain driving distance from their homes. Whatever their presence on the Web, all local auctioneers agree that the reason is the same -- to fetch the highest possible hammer prices for their clients.
"The Internet creates a bigger playing field for our consignors," says David Arnold, consignment manager of in Point Breeze. "It evens out the spottiness of local bidding. Without Internet exposure, many items would sell for practically nothing if the bidding was limited to local buyers. The Internet brings people from all over the world into play, and that helps brings better prices for our customers."
A couple miles away in Regent Square, Concept Art Gallery owner Sam Berkovitz adds an exclamation point to Arnold's sentiments.
"The Internet and online bidding definitely helps the seller," says Berkovitz, who's been conducting online sales since 2001. "We recently had a painting from a Puerto Rican artist I knew little about. So I had no idea how much the work might sell for. But because people could search online for paintings by this artist, we had five or six Internet bidders and the work sold for somewhere between $7,000 to $8,000 because the artist was a significant Puerto Rican modernist. Ten years ago, the same painting probably would have sold for far less than its worth."
While Concept and Dargate accept in-house and online bids for all auctions, other local companies open bidding to online buyers based on sale's potential widespread appeal.
"We do open some sales to Internet bidding," says Tripp Kline, owner of Three Rivers Auction Co., in Washington, Pa. "But it comes down to whether the merchandise in that sale can reach its full and fair market value in Western Pennsylvania. For instance, if I have a sale with a nice selection of locally made crocks and other stoneware, I wouldn't put that online because I know that this is where the collectors are. But if there was one extremely rare piece involved, that might be a reason to go online -- if I thought that the Internet audience would bring a higher final price."
Nearly every local auctioneer agrees that fine art, especially contemporary paintings, are one reason to open a sale beyond the gallery floor. …