Going, Going, Gone: At LI Auction Houses, the Price is Often Right for Shrewd Collectors Newsday (June 21, 2007), B10-B11 Just off Montauk Highway, in a neighborhood of pizzerias and car dealers, is the Amity Auction Gallery.  The white clapboard house seems an unlikely destination for antiques collectors, but the monthly sale is a big draw. Some of the crowd are milling about on the driveway, where the coffee vendor does a brisk business, but most are inside. The bidding starts in less than an hour, so this is the last chance to inspect the jumble of treasures—the flowery sconces and funny portraits, the boudoir chairs and bronze statuettes—that are for sale. With all eyes on Sotheby’s and Christie’s, it is easy to overlook the local scene. For many years, though, a handful of auction houses have flourished on Long Island. These places are known to dealers, but are sometimes overlooked by collectors, for whom auction equals big bucks and mystifying expertise. For anyone with an interest in collecting, the local auction house is the place to be. With no dealer markup, the prices are comparatively low, and the previews offer a hands-on approach to connoisseurship that is not always encouraged in the antiques shops. Even for those shy of the antiques trade, there are reasons to mark the calendar.  For one, local auctions are very much an event. In the city, the news-making sales are standing-room only, but the typical auction there is a lonely business with a dozen spectators sitting impassively while a phone-bidder in Geneva fights it out with a phone-bidder in London.  And with the stakes so high—$200,000 for a dining room table, half a million for a wing chair—the bidding is deliberative. At Amity there is little time for reflection. Hesitate and the china teapot—the one with the painted roses—goes to the lady at the back of the room. One hundred lots per hour is the pace of bidding, and the spectacle includes a rolling exhibition of objects.  Rugs are unfurled, bed-frames are hauled up from the recesses of the galleries, and vases are waved energetically before the crowd. Many years ago, Henry Broggi and Isette Talpe were teachers with a weekend interest in antiques. At work, Broggi was in demand as an auctioneer for school fundraisers.  It was the discovery of his gift for cajoling and hectoring reticent bidders that led to the founding of South Bay Auctions in East Moriches.  Talpe was the veteran of innumerable fairs. She brought to the partnership the knowledge of antiques and understanding of collecting. Nearly twenty-five years later, South Bay has an international reputation, making sales to places as far as Russia. The focus at South Bay is on estate sales. At one recent auction, the anticipation was strongest for a sunny, shimmering landscape by a minor Impressionist painter. The bidding increased first in $1,000 increments, then in $2,000 increments, until it was advancing at $5,000 leaps. The final bid: $240,000 plus the buyer’s premium. Potentially eclipsed by such prices are the many objects—the odd bits of porcelain and silver —that sell in the low hundreds. For the equivalent of a Saturday at the mall, the serendipitous collector could pick up some 19th-century stoneware or a Victorian birdcage. Another South Shore auction house to keep in mind is the Thos. Cornell Galleries. Those who follow the art market may remember the Geoffrey Beene estate. The fashion designer died in 2004, and one year later began the dispersal of his personal possessions. The first sale took place at Sotheby’s.  It was one single- owner sale in a crowded season, and perhaps did not get the attention it deserved. Two months later, there was another Beene sale, organized by Cornell Galleries in Patchogue Village. It’s all part of the industry practice of splitting estates.  The top lots are sold in the city while the rest are consigned locally. Beene was a fastidious man, so even the more accessibly priced things merited the mass dealer exodus from Manhattan on that November day.  The pickings were especially rich in the field of Modern furniture. Rosemary Cornell, the vice-president of Cornell Galleries, notes that most sales are to dealers, who in turn resell the pieces at a markup.  Buying at auction is thus a shrewd move for the private collector. “It’s a wonderful, wonderful way to buy art at a fraction of the cost.” Like most local auction houses, Kotler Galleries & Auctioneers is a family-owned business.  The Kotlers—brothers Edward and Ronald, together with their father Simon—were active in the trade for many years before they founded an auction house in the late 1990s. They organize, on average, six sales a year in Island Park.  Most consignments are in the fine and decorative arts, but the one field they have made their own is vintage jewelry. “December is an especially good time to hold a jewelry sale,” says Edward Kotler, who plans to schedule more such sales throughout the year. Then there is the collectibles market. World’s fair souvenirs, comic books, and sports memorabilia—typically the province of e-Bay and other online auction venues—are for sale at Philipp Weiss Auctions in Oceanside.   Weiss was following a family tradition, when he started his career as a book and stamp specialist. Today, he is best known to viewers of the Antiques Roadshow for his collectibles expertise.   Thanks to his reputation, he is able to attract good consigners. Sound provenance is especially valued in a field like sports memorabilia, which has been damaged in recent years by online sales of fraudulent pieces.  Another advantage to buying at Weiss is the previews, which allow plenty of time for examination.  Collectors take note: you can skip the Berkshires this summer.  From paintings to furniture to collectibles there’s plenty happening close to home.
Writer and Researcher
Amy Gale
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amygale@amygale.com 212-787-5971