2019 will mark Ed Beardsley’s 10th year with Heritage Auctions (HA) as the vice president and managing director of fine and decorative arts. He was recommended to the company by a client of Butterfield & Butterfield, where he handled accounts receivable and advances until becoming the general manager of the Los Angeles office in 2000, after eBay purchased the firm known for its fine art and estate auctions.
Beardsley holds a degree in finance from Penn State and fine arts from the San Francisco Art Institute, a combination that suits him well in the auction business. He has always held the belief that business is rightbrained, as in creative, and art making is actually left-brained, as in analytical, the opposite of what most people associate with the two. After practicing art in the ’90s, he “had to get a real job” (at Butterfield & Butterfield) after he purchased his first home, and thus his path to HA’s door was established.
Dallas Style & Design spoke with Beardsley about fine and decorative arts and Heritage Auctions’ role in them.
When and how did HA get involved with fine and decorative arts? How often do you host auctions on this subject?
Heritage Auctions started 40-plus years ago with coins but branched out first into comics then eventually 35 other categories. We experienced strong crossover with buyers in various categories, and while we’re so strong online, our Texas clients were especially appreciative when we brought high-quality estates, modern and contemporary art, illustration, and Golden Age American art to Dallas.
HA covers a wide spectrum of furniture and decorative arts. In some cases, there appears to be overlap. How did you separate and classify each segment?
We’ve had to evolve as we’ve grown. In the early days of our expansion into the broad category of fine and decorative arts everything was in one catalogue. When we started receiving larger collections, it made sense to break out that category into a stand-alone sale. One by one, we’ve grown to 40 total categories (17 of which are now under the broad mantle of fine and decorative arts).
How can an individual, or company, consign with HA?
One can submit items through our website (ha.com) or make an appointment. Our specialists see a lot of property (tens of thousands of objects every year) and can gauge value very quickly through easy-tosend photographs. For qualified consignments, we often make an appointment and travel, whether nearby or nationally. Since I started in 2009, we’ve opened offices and showrooms in New York, Beverly Hills, San Francisco, Chicago, and have representatives in many other areas. For companies or trusts and estates lawyers, we’ll often submit an easy-to-understand proposal, which can be shared with their team, followed by a presentation when requested.
What expectations should a consignee have? And, what are some common misperceptions people have about auctions?
Consignors pay a seller’s fee commensurate with the category and value of their collection. We will guide them through the process, including shipping, selling timeframe and solutions if auction isn’t recommended, usually based on value. As to misperceptions, people often think auctions are unapproachable. Our usual price point is $5,000 to $500,000, although we’ve also been selling more $1 million paintings and collections each year.
Auctions are traditionally considered a secondary marketplace venue (meaning we sell for estates or those who are downsizing, changing their collection or need money), but it is changing as people appreciate originals and one-of-a-kind works. The value we achieve is called fair market value—the price at which a knowledgeable and willing buyer would pay to a knowledgeable and willing seller in the market at any given time. Some believe a high estimate will guide clients to pay high, but it can actually have the opposite effect of scaring bidders away.
What advice do you have for buyers and sellers of fine and decorative arts?
Do your research—ask questions (email or call us). We invest heavily in getting as much information in catalogs and online as possible but attend a preview if you can—look at scale and condition. Understand the terms and conditions of auction. A glossary will explain that “manner of” or “style of,” for example, means that in our opinion it’s in the style of the artist or designer, but of a later period, which is important to understand. There are many factors that affect value: age, rarity, provenance, condition and more. Our auctions have price points for the collector at every level—there’s an affordable starting point for the beginning collector who is ready to advance into original or unique works.
What trends have you noticed in the last year regarding the sales of fine and decorative arts?
Urban art is one of the newest categories and growing fast. Revered American illustrators like Norman Rockwell and Leyendecker are in high demand. Prints and multiples are popular because you can afford to own a big name, and they are in limited editions so tend to hold their value. As to 3-D, we achieve continued strong prices for certain brands that have existed for up to 200 years—Tiffany and Steuben to Lalique and Baccarat. Great pieces of 20th-century silver by recognizable makers, like Georg Jensen and Buccellati, remain strong. This has been going on awhile, but young collectors have veered away from antiques to contemporary and mid-century upholstery and case pieces. As such, there’s a large amount of traditional antique furniture on the market (which is good for buyers!).
How has HA been affected, if at all, by sites such as 1stdibs, Artsy, RubyLane and the like?
We were one of the first to invest in listing our auctions online, and it is a great resource of information for collectors in all categories. We believe the more information out there the better. In the past the primary buyer at auction was a dealer buying for resale; now private buyers and collectors have found us through online searches. We believe there is room for everyone and that if we offer ease of bidding and a rewarding experience, we will remain on the forefront of buying at auction. We’re always working toward acquiring more clients and have most recently partnered with Artsy, which brings us new young bidders for modern and contemporary art.
What is one design item you cannot live without?
I studied printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute and have a special fondness for prints by James Rosenquist. He used lithography and aquatint etching expressively and skillfully.