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For many of us, autumn signals the return of crisp weather, backpacks and school lunches.  But for an auctioneer September means the thrill and terror of the fall sale season.  This month, the major international houses based in New York are bringing some spectacular collections to market, including the estate of Brooke Astor (Sotheby’s) and works from the Andy Warhol Foundation (Christie’s).  Both sales will give the public the opportunity to view works of art that have been out of the public eye for decades (despite what some academics say about the pity of these things ‘disappearing’ into private collections, auctions are one of the art world’s great transparent processes and a boon for scholarship).

Local auction houses gear up for September too, and their offerings, though lower-profile, are nevertheless worth attention and a visit if you’re lucky enough to live within driving distance of one.  Attending an auction, whether as a buyer or a spectator, may be the very best way to hone your connoisseurship skills, understand market trends and tastes, refine your eye, begin to separate the genuine from the reproductions, and ultimately gauge what your own property may be worth.

Here are a few highlights from Washington D.C.’s September sales.  They’re not necessarily the most ‘important’ works in these local auctions, but are all things that have caught my eye for one purely subjective reason or another and they indicate the scope of what’s out there.

“Everything Connects” at Sloans and Kenyon

Clean modern lines dominate Sloans’ fall auction.  As always, Stephanie Kenyon and her team have assembled a well-balanced selection of estate property from Chinese works of art to American silver to European antique furniture and international paintings. As a fan of mid-century American design, I’m delighted to see some very nice Charles and Ray Eames Eiffel Tower chairs (with their original upholstery) along with other modern furniture.  But the big surprise for me is a modestly priced lazy susan dining table.  Although its clean lines and supremely practical form are perfectly in keeping with twentieth century aesthetic, the 57-inch diameter American pine table dates to the 19th century.  To quote the eminently quotable Charles Eames, “Eventually everything connects — people, ideas, objects… the quality of the connections is the key to quality per se.”

Sloans and Kenyon Sale 70 Lot 162. PAIR MID-CENTURY MODERN EAMES FOR HERMAN MILLER EIFFEL TOWER CHAIRS. Geometrically splayed legs; original upholstery – 33 in. x 19 in. x 15 in.  Estimate $300-500.

Sloans and Kenyon Sale 70 Lot 1210 AMERICAN PINE LAZY SUSAN DINING TABLE, 19th century. Circular two-tier top; square base; on square tapering legs – 34 in. x 57 in. diam.
Estimate $600-900

Sloans and Kenyon

September Estate Catalogue Auction, September 15th and 16th
Preview exhibition: now through September 14th.

7034 Wisconsin Avenue, Chevy Chase, Maryland 20815. Tel: 301.634.2330


Swing Estates at Weschler’s

Weschler’s, well known in the District for their weekly “Metro” auctions of low-to-mid-range property, holds its semi-annual catalogue sales on September 14.  Although it appears to be a smaller offering than usual, there are some nice 19th century oil paintings (very undervalued these days) along with some perennial favorites like Gorham’s Chantilly sterling pattern and an unusually large selection of blue and white porcelain. For an example of how the market ebbs and flows, take a look at Lot 217, the very nice Meissen Blue Onion dinner service.  In the late 1970s, the rule of thumb for valuing these sets was $3 per piece (that’s $3 for each salad plate, tureen, compote—everything). By the early 1980s, the explosion of interest in antiques drove market auction prices for a 225-piece set of the same china to $10,000.  Today, prices are more balanced, achieving respectable results for sellers and still offering attractive room for a new generation of collectors to buy.  Weschler’s 90 piece set (consisting mostly of serving pieces along with a usable number of dinner plates, salad plates and soup bowls) is estimated at $1,200-1,800.  That’s about $13 per piece for some of the best china ever made.  It will last forever and never go out of style.

Weschler’s September 2012 Capital Estate Collections Sale Lot 217
Meissen ‘Blue Onion’ Dinner Service, 1860-1924 . Estimate: $1,200-$1,800.

Adam A. Weschler and Son

September Capital Collections Estate Auction, September 14
Preview exhibition: now through September 13th.

909 E Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20004

Tel: 202.628.1281


Lost and Found at Potomack

The most watched lot of the Washington season will undoubtedly be a tiny impressionistic landscape sketch at The Potomack Company.  The picture is being heralded as the ultimate flea market find: purchased in a $7 box lot at a Shenandoah Valley junk sale, the little painting very nearly ended up in the trash (the buyer had planned to sell the pretty, ornate frame and ditch the canvas).  But Potomack’s specialists now believe it’s a lost Renoir, Paysage bords de Seine, last seen publicly in 1926.  It goes on the block September 29 with an estimate of $75,000 –$ 100,000.  Most observers are taking a cautious view, using phrases like “may be,” and “attributed to,” but there’s no doubt that it would be the most sensational story of lost and found in recent market memory.  These things do happen, and it’s the moment every auctioneer lives for.

Here’s hoping you discover something wonderful at the fall sales.

The Potomack Company September Catalogue Auction. Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paysage bords de Seine. Estimate $75,000-$100,000.

The Potomack Company

Fall Catalogue Auction, September 29 and 30

Preview exhibition September 22-29.

526 North Fayette Street Alexandria, Virginia 22314