Canny collectors see recession put value in frame
DEATH, duties, divorce and debt are the four life events which lead to big sales at the auction rooms.
And while the first three have remained fairly constant, the number of distressed sales by individuals off-loading the "family silver" and collectables to pay off debts has sky- rocketed, according to George Mealy, the head of one of the country's most reputable auction houses.
But sellers have been warned that they must be realistic about prices -- and antiques and artwork bought during the Celtic Tiger will struggle to make the same prices now. It shows that the old adage that art is a great investment and hedge against a recession may not necessarily hold true.
A good barometer of how the market is faring will take place on Budget day, this Tuesday, when a massive 1,200 lots will go under the hammer at the Mealy's winter sale in Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny.
The auction was to have taken place last week but bad weather forced a postponement.
"Prices are way back and it is definitely a buyers' market," said George Mealy. "The volume of items finding their way into the auction rooms is well up and for many of those individuals the reason is they need money to pay off debts. It is breaking people's hearts to have to sell, but they have no choice," George Mealy said.
But the increased interest in fine art auctions is also giving some canny investors who are not distressed an opportunity to realise profits on investments made some years ago.
"Choice lots are still performing very well. Quality never goes out of fashion," Mr Mealy said.
Some of the highlights of Mealy's sale are two fine Irish paintings and a particularly unusual clock, which are expected to make top prices.
The clock, a rare walnut Longcase Regulator by Hensehel Samuelson, a late 19th-Century watchmaker and jeweller based in Duke Street in Dublin, has a guide price of between €4,000 and €6,000.
One of the top paintings is 'The Young Anglers' by Walter Osborne, regarded as Ireland's only notable Impressionist painter. The work has a guide price of €12,000-€18,000.
Another choice lot is a painting by Aloysius O'Kelly 'Brittan, the Stained Glass Window' with a guide of €8,000 to €15,000. Another non-distress sale is that of a clock once owned by Charles Haughey.
Last month, at the Shelbourne Hotel, auctioneer James O'Halloran of James Adam and Sons sold off €1.5m of art from the collection of cash-strapped Bank of Ireland. In a bid to avoid saturating the market, the bank has been advised to drip feed its 2,000- piece collection with a number of sales already being planned for the future.
Adam's is now deciding, in consultation with the bank, whether to hold another auction or to include lots, little by little, in its general Irish art sales.
It is expected that about 400 artworks -- about a quarter of the total collection -- will be sold at auction. The money raised will be used to support the bank's community projects.