If you’re in the market for a Rothko or a Warhol, the big auction houses remain king. But for shoppers who regularly troll the Brooklyn Flea, Antiques Garage, and eBay in search of rare or unusual pieces, the city’s robust auction network shouldn’t be overlooked. This largely untapped (and, at times, tricky-to-infiltrate) world caters primarily to industry pros and super-collectors, though anyone can get in on the deals—and yes, there are some to be had if you know where to look. What follows is a layperson’s guide to navigating the urban auction universe, from scoring designer sofas at rock-bottom prices to buying foreclosed brownstones in Brooklyn.
Antique and vintage décor on the cheapish.
Blink and you’ll miss a wingback chair going for $350 or an Ultrasuede Vladimir Kagan sofa for $3,000 at Roland Auctions New York (80 E. 11th St., nr. Broadway; 212-260-2000), which blasts through as many as 100 lots an hour at its daylong sales. Items for bid at its May 4 auction include a nineteenth-century tulipwood writing table (estimated between $4,000 and $6,000) and a pair of vintage Danish-modern children’s chairs ($80 to $100). At a recent Hutter Auction Galleries sale (444 W. 55th St., nr. Tenth Ave.; 212-247-4791), a rococo-style console was won for $1,600, though it was estimated up to $3,000; Hutter’s next sale is May 11. Art Deco and mid-century-modern addicts can also get their fix at Capo Auction Fine Art and Antiques’ monthly sales (36-01 Queens Blvd., Long Island City; 718-433-3710), which recently sold a couch that had once lived in Radio City Music Hall’s Nicotine Room for $16,800. Its next auction is May 18. And while Christie’s might not be the first place you think of for affordable, lower-end items at its monthly Interiors sale (20 Rockefeller Plz., nr. Fifth Ave.; 212-636-2000) are often sold without reserve; scoring a Scalamandré-upholstered sofa for $200 isn’t unheard of.
Status bags and sequined bolero jackets.
Twice a year in New York, couture expert Karen Augusta (augusta-auction.com; 802-463-3333.) hosts fashion-and-textile auctions with merchandise sourced from estates, museums, and historical societies. Bargain hunters can score vintage men’s suits for $400 to $800 and, for women, sequined bolero jackets, Victorian beaded bodices, lace shawls, and embroidered Turkish scarves for $100 to $300. The next auction, scheduled for November 13, takes place at Landmark on the Park (160 Central Park W., nr. 76th St.; 212-595-8410). Those with beaucoup bucks could do worse than Birkin shopping at Heritage Auction’s 775-lot luxury-handbag sale on April 28 at the Fletcher-Sinclair Mansion (2 E. 79th St., nr. Fifth Ave.; 212-288-8660). The lot includes limited-edition bags from Hermès, Chanel, and Bulgari, plus several crocodile Birks with starting bids of $40,000, and one pre-owned by Kim Kardashian beginning at $10,000.
Books and Ephemera
Stately home libraries start here.
Bibliophiles on the hunt for bookshelf showpieces gravitate to one of Swann Galleries’ twenty book auctions a year. Highlights from a recent sale included a first edition of Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, hammer-dropped at $14,000, and a collection of eleven first-edition works by Beat poets including Allen Ginsberg, sold for $1,080. Rare-book auctions at Bonhams (580 Madison Ave., nr. 56th St.; 212-644-9001) take place every few months; a single page from a first-edition Canterbury Tales sold for $8,125 in December. On April 23, Doyle New York (175 E. 87th St., nr. Third Ave.; 212-427-2730) will auction the insurance policy for the Titanic in a sale that also has a first-edition Jane Eyre; eighteen pen-and-ink drawings by Maurice Sendak; and, spookily, a locket containing strands of Charles Dickens’s hair.
For the aspiring collector without a collector’s budget.
Deals are not unheard of at Swann Auction Galleries (104 E. 25th St., nr. Park Ave., Ste. 6; 212-254-4710), which specializes in works on paper; last September, an etching of Picasso’s Corps Perdu: Tête went for $1,200, while a Matisse lithograph, estimated as being worth up to $15,000, sold for $7,800. Swann also hosts vintage-poster sales five times a year, auctioning off striking political, travel, and Art Nouveau prints for as little as $500. At the SculptureCenter’s game-show-style Lucky Draw auction (44-19 Purves St., nr. Jackson Ave., Long Island City; 718-361-1750), held every spring, each $500- ticket-holder comes away with works from the likes of Claes Oldenburg and Alice Aycock, many valued between $2,000 and $7,000. New York upstart Paddle8 (paddle8.com), meanwhile, is now the online home to some of the city’s most popular art benefits, including the BAMart Silent Auction. The Brooklyn Academy of Music’s annual sale gives bidders a go at pieces by contemporary-art stars like Tom Sachs and Marilyn Minter; see the works in person April 23 to 28 at The Hole on the Bowery before bidding. Also up for grabs on Paddle 8 through April 23: Artwork from the set of Gossip Girl. The print of Richard Phillips’s Untitled (Gossip Girl: Spectrum), which hung in the Van der Woodsens’ living room, is estimated at $5,000.