Reflections on November’s Chinese auctions from an online bidder’s point of view

online auctions3  We wrote a few weeks ago about the plethora of Chinese art auctions during November, the difficulties of getting around them all and our decision to, instead, bid online ( Well, it has certainly been a highly instructive experience to attempt to do all our buying online and we thought it might be interesting to record our very mixed experiences.

In all, we bid on just nine auctions, two of which we viewed and the balance viewed either online or from a catalogue supplied by the auctioneers. Bidding was generally successful in digital terms although there some notable failures. We registered on Dreweatts own site for their Asian Sale at Castle Donnington. Unfortunately, it was a disaster. We were interested in the section in which the Peter Arlidge Collection of Song ceramics was to sold and had identified three lots we were determined to buy. Horror of horrors, when we depressed the BID button, absolutely nothing happened and it was clear our bids were not registering at all. We rebooted and re-registered but the bids we made took so long to register that the lots were sold before we could get into the running. In one instance, by the time our bid of £110 was registered on the screen, bidding had already reach £700! We got nothing and were very disappointed . . .

We successfully bid in the Lyon & Turnbull London sale (having previously viewed it) although there was anasty shock using the Invaluable site: after just three lots (none of which we bid on) an electronic notice flashed up on the screen saying se had exhausted our £10,000 credit limit! I had a sudden fear that our feline friend had wandered across the keyboard and bid on our behalf! Fortuitously, I had L&T’s number in London and called them and they reinstated our ability to bid with a new £50,000 limit.

Later in the week, we viewed a sale at Borders Auctions in Hawick which had a couple of dozen serious Chinese interest items. The night before the sale we filed a dozen Autobids with This turned out to be a lucky move as the connection with the auction came and went with multiple freezes which lasted for five or ten minutes a time. In the event, we got everything we wanted using our recorded auto-bids. If we had relied on bidding live we might have just got half of them.

The other sales we participated in went much more smoothly. Having bid successfully, of course, we then had the challenge of getting our lots back to our location in the Scottish Borders. We found the prices quoted by The-Saleroom’s affiliate Mailboxes Etc far too expensive: on one three-figure lot bought from Dukes, the cost of packing and carriage exceeded the cost of the lot itself. We got a much more competitive price from the specialist fine art carriers Aardvark which was a third of that quoted by Mailboxes Etc. From a couple of the houses, we drove and collected ourselves which was cheaper and less stressful.

Our verdict on the success or otherwise of our experimental new strategy has to be that physical attendance at a sale where there are items of even modest interest has to be a must. We shall probably bid in fewer auctions, but we shall try to get there ourselves and simply put the miles on the clock rather than hours behind the screen!

Online auctions for collectors of Chinese art

online auctions1 Online auctions become ever more popular. Personally, I am reluctant to commit to purchases that I, or my trusted agent, have not handled but such auctions do often provide an opportunity for the odd cheap ‘scoop’. Here are some sales from UK-based online auctioneers. Caveat emptor!

In 2008, online service provider Artnet launched the world’s first major online art marketplace. In 2010, Chinese auction house China Guardian Auctions followed, setting up the first Chinese auction site, which sells everything from art to stamps to an autographed Lionel Messi polo shirt.

Major Western auction houses have started getting in on the online marketplace as well. Christie’s in 2006 began allowing users to watch auctions live and bid online. The company took virtual auctioning a step further by launching online-only auctions in 2011. Its first such event—a four-day sale of “The Collection of Elizabeth Taylor” that ran at the same time as a live auction at Christie’s New York—generated more than 57,000 bids and $9.5 million. The house has continue online-only auctions; last year it sold an original Apple-1 computer in an online sale for $387,750.

“The potential for growth for Christie’s [online] is exponential because of the number of active buyers and interested buyers,” Christie’s CEO Steven Murphy told The Wall Street Journal earlier this year. “Online provides us with the means of connection with them that is far more facile than bricks and mortars.”

It also remains to be seen whether a marketplace that is known to be overflowing with fakes can convince buyers of art that they’re getting the real deal.

“It’s hard for you pay tens of thousands dollars to buy a fine art piece without viewing it in person,” the former Christie’s Chinese art specialist said. “Above all, you need to know which work is real or not. Trust is very important.”

Most auction houses these days engage an outside company to broadcast their auctions ‘live’ as they happen, often with pictures as well as sound. As a result, a group of ‘middlemen’ has arisen and not only do they undertake the technical side of ‘live’ auctions but they also promote them on their own websites. They also promote other auctions which do not take place ‘live’ but which are timed, i.e. they have a closing time and date at which point the highest bidder gets the lot or lots he/she has bid for. Some other auctions are not public auctions in the traditional sense but just take place online.

There a number of places you might visit to find out what is going on in the sphere of online auctions:

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It is also worth having a look at a relatively new website AuctionMyStuff started by former Sotheby’s man Patrick van der Vorst with £100,000 seed capital from the two members of TV’s Dragons Den team of investors. It aims to be ‘approachable’ from the point of view of both buyers and sellers. Based in London, it draws on an international team of auctioneer-experts for the purpose of valuing and selling art and antiques.

Auctionata who have their base in Germany are very active. Have a look at

Their 2014 auctions included Tibetan Art (January 17), and Asian Art (March 7).

September 2014 sees an important series of auctions:

September 4 Treasures of Asia

September 25 Buddhist and Indian art

September 26 Important Asian Art

and October30 Asian Art from Berlin (128 lots)

December 2014 sees a series of important online auctions at Auctionata

In the three livestream auctions ‘Exceptional Snuff Bottles from a Spanish Collection’ and ‘Important Chinese Furniture’ and ‘Important Asian Art’ on December 11 & 12, 2014, Auctionata will present outstanding pieces of Asian Art.

The first auction ‘Exceptional Snuff Bottles’ on December 11 at 6 PM CET will offer more than 60 rare snuff bottles from a private collection in Spain. The artfully crafted snuff bottles, which had been used for storing powdered tobacco since the early Qing Dynasty, are particularly impressive in their diversity of materials and designs.

The subsequent auction ‘Important Chinese Furniture’ at 8 PM CET will present rare Ming Dynasty furniture from the estate of a German diplomat. The outstanding highlight of this auction is an impressive Zitan Altar Table QIAOTOUAN from the 16th/17th century. Further highlights include a set of four Huanghuali armrest chairs, crafted in the 17th century, a 16th century Huanghuali altar table with floral carving and a rare Huanghuali daybed LUOHANCHUANG with original arm- and backrests, decorated with finely carved reliefs.

The auction ‘Important Asian Art’ on December 12 at 6 PM CET will then present works by important Chinese artists such as QI Baishi, LI Keran or GUAN Liang. One outstanding highlight of this auction is a private album of paintings from the estate of the well-known illustrator Werner Klemke (1917-1994) from East Berlin, which is filled with personal messages and spontaneous drawings by LI Keran, GUANG Liang, HE Tianjian and many other artists.

For more information, see the online catalogues:

‘Exceptional Snuff Bottles’ on December 11 at 6 PM CET

‘Important Chinese Furniture’ on December 11 at 8 PM

‘Important Asian Art’ on December 12 at 6 PM CET


London auctioneers 25 Blythe Road have online Asian Art

London firm The Auction Room have some Asian items in various sales/

McTears, Glasgow Gallery 1842 tend to sell unsold lots online after their advertised live auctions which can be accessed online as well as in the room. Denmark mounted the important Auction of Chinese Artifacts from the private collection of the Danish Collector Sophus Black  in March 2014. Follow them on

CJM Auction Centre, Scunthorpe Clocks, Pocket Watches & Oriental Porcelain View took place in April 2014. Sale was handled by

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