Behind the Scenes at Bonhams & Butterfields

Behind the Scenes at Bonhams & Butterfields

Jess Watson
Feb 25, 2010

Store History

  • Founded: 1865

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to get a behind the scenes look at the SoMa Estate Auction at Bonhams & Butterfields. While a handful of items went for above their published estimates, most I saw went for below and there were some astonishingly good deals to be had. A set of six Spanish Baroque style side chairs for $180! A George III style entertainment cabinet for $50! Let's just say I'll be back.

Thanks to Christine Skinner at Bonhams, I was able to check out all of the preview items, see the thousands of items in storage getting prepped for upcoming auctions and watch the auction in action. SoMa Estate Auctions are held monthly and items featured each month vary widely based on what comes into the auction house. Catalogs are available online about a week before the auction so one can peruse the lots to see if anything strikes his or her fancy.

Remember that price points for this auction are in the $300 to $3,000 range with many items selling for below their published estimates. The craftsmanship in the furniture and rugs is a wonderful alternative to massed produced box store items. Bonhams is also carrying full sets of China in the $500 price range whereas a single place setting would sell for that at Gumps.

If you are an auction newbie (like I was), don't fret. Christine shared some great beginners tips to remember about auctions:

  • Inspect the Property: All items are sold 'as-is'. Preview are available before the auction so one may inspect the property thoroughly. There are no sale cancellations or returns
  • Know the Cataloging Terminology: The glossary at the front of the catalog is extremely helpful. Terms like after (after Titian) indicate that an item is a copy of the know work of an artist while style (Louis XVI style) indicates that the piece is not period, but simple in the style of the period.
  • Buyer's Premium: When determining your maximum bid, take into account that the Buyer's Premium will be added to the final hammer price. The Buyer's Premium for the SoMa Estate Auction is twenty percent.
  • Methods of Bidding: Bidding may be done in person, in absentia or by telephone.
  • For Passed Items: If an item does not sell, feel free to contact the department to make a post sale offer

Next Sale:
The next SoMa Estate Auction is Sunday, March 21st. The auction will be featuring a nice selection of photography and over 200 lots of estate jewelry including a really cool collection of Bakelite bracelets in addition to paintings, furniture, rugs etc. The full auction catalog will be available online about a week before the auction. If you attend the March auction, mention that you read about it on Apartment Therapy and you will receive a free catalog (normally $10). I can't wait to check out the Bakelite bracelets!

(Image credits: Jessica Watson)

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