Sunday, August 26, 2012

Tiffany Coup For Michaan's Auctions

Hello dear readers, it has been far too long since my last post, but relatively speaking it was rather a slow summer for the art market in general.  As August winds to a close the September sale catalogues are upon us as are the flurry of fall press releases.  Asia Week will dominate a majority of next month as well as Sotheby's single owner sale of the Estate of Brooke Astor.  However, I was stunned by a major upset in the New York dominated Tiffany Studios market.  It appears that Michaan's Auctions (based in Almeda, California) has brought to market one of the best collections of Tiffany works of art in the world.  Michaan's beat out both Christie's and Sotheby's for the right to sell the "Tiffany Masterworks" from The Garden Museum in Japan.

Tiffany Studios "Grape" Table Lamp, Estimate $750,000-$850,000.  Photo courtesy Michaan's Auctions.
Detail, courtesy Michaan's Auctions.
This is quite a coup for the small California auction house considering that it was founded some ten years ago.  With the collapse of the economy, auction houses have become much more cautious about offering 0% terms, collateral loans, and guarantees in order to secure consignments but when they do come into play it is usually the larger houses that have the wherewithal to seal the deal...not so in this case.  According the their press release, Michaan's dug in deep and actually secured a group of private investors to acquire the contents of The Garden Museum outright and they will be selling it on their own behalf.  Quite risky and a very bold move for a smaller auction venue, but well played I must say.
Selection of lamps, a painting and favrile glass vases from The Garden Museum. Photo courtesy Michaan's.
The Garden Museum was the brainchild of fervent Tiffany collector Mr. Takeo Horiuchi aided by noted Tiffany expert Alastair Duncan after meeting at an exhibition in 1992.  From that point foreward, the pair worked closely together to track down only the best and most rarified works.  Horiuchi stuck by Duncan while he suffered a career setback that would have ruined others with lesser intestinal fortitude, but that is another story for another day.  Duncan played a major role in bringing this collection to market so it is a definite coup for him as well.
Wisteria and "Pony" Wisteria lamps from the collection.  Photo courtesy Michaan's.
From the press release, Japan's recent seismic activity and ensuing tsunamis motivated Horiuchi to disband the museum as he felt he could no longer ensure the long term safety of the works if they stayed in Japan.
Selection of highlights from the sale.  Photo courtesy Michaan's.
We will have to wait and see if a larger financial motivation comes to light.  The sale is oddly placed on November 17th, a full three weeks before the 20th century sales in New York.  I guess this will make it easier for collectors to to attend both the east coast and west coast sales but if I were Michaan's I would have had the sale in a pop-up space in New York to dominate the week typically won by Christie's and Sotheby's... but I digress.  More to come as the details unfold.  Make sure to secure your copy of Duncan's catalogue of the Museum published in 2002 as it will now likely become a scholarly collectors item.  Until next time--AR.


  1. Sometimes it seems that Tiffany glass has the most wild swings in the art market, but that is really a tribute to its extreme appeal that periodically over-inflates its value.

    The story of Alistair Duncan was indeed shocking, and I hope it won't cast a pall over this auction. (That's a pretty Gothic way to build up your stock. If he had seen the Drop of Water section of the movie Black Sabbath, he would have known better than to rob cemeteries.)
    --Road to Parnassus

  2. The Grape lamp shows something interesting: Louis Tiffany was concerned about costs when it came to lamp production, and that Grape lamp was clearly produced on the same buck as the Wisteria lamps.

    1. Yes, Tiffany did repurpose many shade "blocks" or frames for a variety of patterns. The monumental Wisteria shape was used for the "Trumpet Creeper", "Apple Blossom", and "Grape Vine" models as well.