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Touched by genius – why the artist’s hand is so important

One of the most important factors affecting value for many items going to auction is the maker. This is particularly true when it comes to fine art, whether drawings, prints, paintings or sculpture.

It can be quite hard to get your head around how this works with conceptual art – an idea conceived by an artist but actually executed by their assistants, without them having a hand in its manufacture. Certainly, with Old Master portraits, many of which were completed by studio assistants, it is only when we know that the most important parts – usually the face and hands – were painted by the master himself that we can call it an autograph work and the price shoots up. This is why catalogue descriptions can range from ‘attributed to’ all the way down to ‘Circle of’, ‘School of’ or ‘Follower of’.

The magical hand of the artist has made all the difference to the star of this year’s Royal Academy Summer Show Keep Ou. Another comment on Brexit by the mysterious Banksy, he has used as his ‘canvas’ an arrivals gate from Terminal One, Heathrow, sold off last year as surplus to requirements. I have no idea what the price was when the hammer fell then, but you can bet that the RA price tag is considerably higher.

Getting the balance right between technology and first-hand experience at auction

There is no doubt that the most transformative development for auctions over the past twenty years has been the internet and online bidding. With potential buyers able to log in and bid from anywhere in the world, a typical auction might now have bidders taking part from dozens of countries around the world – and that’s on top of those bidding via the phone or commission. That’s good news for consignors, who now enjoy far larger audiences for their possessions, and good news for buyers, who can now gain access to multiple sales from the comfort of their armchair.

But with every bonus, there is also a catch: fewer people bother to come and bid in person in the saleroom. Why does this matter? In my opinion, it makes it more difficult to create an ‘atmosphere’ for any sale, making the auctioneer’s job a bit more challenging, but I also think that the less people visit auction houses, the more difficult it will be for them to grasp what a fantastic way this is of doing business for buyers and sellers.

So my advice is this: whether or not you end up bidding online, get to pre-sale viewings as often as possible and make sure you also attend the odd auction in person. That is the way to become a real expert and give yourself the edge in the long term.

Why we use different forms of bidding

The European elections operate by a somewhat complex system of proportional representation instead of the first-past-the-post arrangement used for local and general elections in this country.

The exercise of this last week reminded me that not all auction systems are the same either.

Traditionally, as we know, the auctioneer will offer a lot at a starting price and then accept bids on it as the sums offered rise. Assuming the eventual bid is above the reserve – or at least within the range agreed for the auctioneer’s discretion – when the hammer falls the lot is sold.

However, other methods include the Dutch auction, first used in the Netherlands during Tulip mania in the 17th century, where the auctioneer will lower the price from the starting offer on an item until it wins a bid.

This system developed because tulip bulb inflation rose at such speed that establishing a market value on any given day became impossible by any other practice.

Even more complex systems of bidding can be used under special circumstances, for instance when selling a large collection. Though the desire may be to keep the collection together, enough demand may not arise to achieve this, so a dual system can be employed to test the water in which all lots are first offered singly and then, once the collective price has been established, the auctioneer will see if any single bidder is prepared to outbid that sum, thereby winning the whole lot.

It’s nice to know that, with skill, auction professionals can adapt their service to the needs of any given situation.

Now that’s what I call a Porsche

It’s not often that something comes up for auction that is so outstanding and iconic that it stays in the memory forever, but something popped up in my InBox today that fitted the bill exactly: the world’s oldest Porsche sports car.

What a magnificent piece of design!

Dating to 1939, the Type 64 is the only model left from the three designed and built by Ferdinand Porsche. A compact coupé intended for road racing, its chief objective was to embody the might and pride of German engineering on the trip from Berlin to Rome. Its sleek lines and aerodynamic form were absolutely of their time, a fitting focus for a backdrop of Art Deco architecture, even if the engine itself was no more than the one fitted to the original VW Beetle.

Its provenance also helps when it comes to appeal and price; from Porsche himself, in 1948 the car passed into the hands of racing driver Otto Mathé before passing on to only two more owners in its 80-year history. Today it is considered the most historically important of all Porsche cars in existence.

So what is it expected to sell for when it comes up for sale in August in the United States?

A cool $20 million. It’s going to be an exciting day on the rostrum.