The auctioneer’s chant, the bidders’ paddles spasmodically airborne, the clack of the auctioneer’s gavel, the need for focus lest one miss an item, offers drama and entertainment. But live auctions are a dying breed, quickly shifting to the internet.
But the founders of Showplace Antique + Design Center decided to buck that trend, and returned the ritual, to a NoMad location on 25th Street with down-to-earth New York panache, twice-monthly estate auctions, with bagels and champagne. (Less frequently, in summer months.)
Launched in the spring of 2015, the auctions have grown from 150 lots to over 300 at each auction, creating a revenue stream for the company and attracting a new clientele – the general public.
Showplace’s primary business is large volume retail that caters mostly to designers and people in the trade. The large building with four floors features dozens of vendors, a burst of antique chandeliers — and coffee tables and sofas and lamps and sculptures and paintings and jewelry. The items span recent centuries, but most are art nouveau, art deco, mid-century modern or postmodern pieces.
Amos Balaish, Showplace’s founder, was originally a gift and toy manufacturer, as well as a collector of art nouveau and mid-century modern objects before he decided to open an antiques shop. He started Showplace as a weekend market nearly a quarter of a century ago. Before long, he was open seven days a week, with added galleries and a room setting, as well as a designer and decorator floor.
The auctions are a throwback, to a once-upon-a-time when they were big social gatherings, hubs of activity, Andrea Baker, the auctions manager, said.
“We’re about reviving the community feel, and redefining it, making it very easy for people to participate,” she said. Most items open at $50 to $100.
Some Showplace customers have been known to decorate their entire homes with objects bought at auctions, Baker said. These are highly desirable objects which could otherwise reach into the high hundreds or even thousands of dollars in a retail location, she added.
The auctions take place in an intimate space. Several vendor spots are cleared out in the back of the building, at street level, to pack in 50 fold-out chairs or more, depending on the audience they expect, and hundreds of antique treasures, selected from several estates. They include Tiffany lamps, Pop posters, English silverware and, at least on one recent occasion, a Picasso ceramic. The objects remain on view behind the auctioneer but are also shown, enlarged, on a projector screen. A bank of administrators off to the side, similar to those at high-end auctions, take bids via phone and the internet from around the country and beyond.
At a recent auction, the sale of a folk art chair, comprised of musical instruments, was expected to sell at $1,000 or more, and went for $225. Baker surmises that a dealer got that one, and if that’s the case, she said, they are going to make a lot of money on it.
A highly patinated bronze lamp, ca. 1935, in the shape of a crocus and designed and signed by the American illustrator and designer McClelland Barclay, was given an estimated value of $200-400, but created a bidding war, with 22 bids at mostly $50 jumps. With a slam of the gavel, it finally sold for $650.
The next Showplace estate auction is April 2 with 334 lots. One item of particular interest, Baker said, is a vintage Breitling Swiss chronograph watch with an estimated value of $2,000-3,000. “It’s like the rolls Royce of watches,” said another salesman on the floor.
Will the buyer walk away with a steal?