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US auction roundup

Butterfields has dropped telephone bidding in favour of live Internet bids.

For 15 years, the San Francisco-based auction house and its Los Angeles gallery have used simultaneous telephone bidding. Now the house reckons over two-thirds of the lots sold are the subject of Internet bidding.

Bruce Kaiser, wine director at Butterfields, says the change is due to ‘the large increase in the number of L.A. area bidders using the live Internet bidding method and the corresponding drop in attendance at the gallery.’

This number, Kaiser said, has continued to grow since Internet bidding began in January 2001. Butterfields is owned by eBay, the online-auction specialists.

Butterfields’ first 2002 auction, on 19 January, realized US$625,000 (€721,626). The sale, of 92% of 1,067 lots, Kaiser said, left a ‘distinct impression buyers and sellers were satisfied.’

He said, ‘The noticeable trend was the large demand for Bordeaux wines. The softness in post-1990 wines continued from last year, though things have firmed somewhat for 1995’s and 1996’s. Bidding increased for the 1980’s wines, especially 1982.’

As for Burgundy, ‘softness continued post-1990, though most of the mixed lots sold.’ Among California wines, ‘two changes in demand are for Opus One and Dominus (the Napa vineyard owned by Bordeaux’s Christian Moueix). Nearly all lots of Opus One saw less demand than recent years, with some going unsold. This trend started in the middle of last year. Dominus saw limited demand, especially for the 1997.’

An assorted 12-bottle lot of 1990 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, fetching US$9,200 (€10,622), above the US$6,000 (€6,928) high estimate, was the highest-grossing Burgundy and consignment.

The top-earning Bordeaux lot was eight bottles of 1961 Lafite, which carried a US$3,500 (€4,041) high estimate and sold for US$3,738 (€4,316). The top-grossing American lot consisted of three bottles of 1997 Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon, which went for US$3,738 (€4,299), below the US$4,000 (€4,618) top estimate.

In Chicago, Edward Roberts International, America’s newest wine auction house, has scheduled three two-day sales this year. The first day focuses on fine and rare wines, the second on what director Edward Robert Brooks calls notable values.

Starting March 9-10, the Saturday-Sundays sales, using Internet bidding, will be held at Susanin’s Auctioneers, in the imposing Merchandise Mart. The Chicago Wine Company aside, Edward Roberts International is fairly free of Midwestern bricks-and-mortar competition. Butterfields and Sothebys have terminated Chicago sales.

Auction diary dates and contact information

Written by Howard G Goldberg in New York4 February 2002

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