Monday, March 05, 2007

More for Less: Shopping at Auction

The front entrance to Dorotheum, Vienna's leading auction house.

This April, the venerable Vienna-based auction house, Dorotheum, celebrates its 300th birthday. With offices throughout Austria, as well as in Milan and Prague, it has long been a source for interesting and often unusual items.

The firm organizes over 600 sales annually, offering a vast array of material - from art and antiques, to cars, carpets and musical instruments - ranging from museum-quality objects, to more "everyday" antiques that still provide a hefty amount of decorative impact, but for a lot less dosh.

A pair of 19th century Baroque-style armchairs, new muslin upholstery
Estimate: 2400-2600 euros

The few examples shown above and below, from the upcoming Furniture & Decorative Arts sale scheduled for March 27th in Vienna, are perfect examples of beautiful, old pieces with loads of character that can be had for a reasonable price - perhaps even less than the estimate.

There's nothing wrong with a revival, or a chair that no longer has its original upholstery. Is an object any less interesting because its slightly worn or damaged? And how bad is it, really, if a piece of furniture has been modified over the centuries? Its not bad at all, if you know everything up front. Auction houses will tell you, some dealers might not. And let's face it, there's a sense of alleviation just knowing the bumps and spills of daily life won't require a visit from the insurance agent and a trip to the conservator. These are delightful objects to live with easily.

A 19th-century mirror in the 18th-century Neoclassical style, some damage to lower-right corner of frame
Estimate: 1600-2000 euros

A late 18th-early or 19th century Baroque-style chest of drawers
Estimate: 2800-3400 euros

Good-quality reproductions of historical designs are a perfectly viable, though expensive, option if its newness you're after. But if you're looking for something a bit less perfect and with a bit more history, auction houses are a fantastic resource not often used by the general public. Don't be intimidated.

Caveat Emptor, though, and do request a condition report so there aren't any surprises. You will pay shipping, but no dealer mark-up and that should assuage any doubt about the purchase and its real value. Plus, with a highly regarded firm like Dorotheum, you're virtually guaranteed a positive experience. They've been in business for 300 years for a reason.

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