As head of the Discovery Department, I’m in a unique position to handle the largest volume of material here at Skinner. Record prices may be achieved by our specialty departments, but in an average year over 12,000 lots ranging from American Federal furniture to estate jewelry and collectibles are auctioned under the Discovery umbrella.
The volume of material that passes through the auction room at our Marlborough, MA gallery each year is staggering! Still, I can’t walk through a preview without being drawn in for a closer look. I can’t not stop to admire.
I often pass tables laden with almost every kind of antique and collectible item imaginable—Limoges porcelain, Japanese No masks, Lincoln Drape pattern bowls and painted cast iron doorstops, and it never ceases to surprise me that I don’t just see a blur, or a sea of “stuff.” Something always catches my eye and reminds me of why I love this business. It can be as small as noticing a distinctive beaded brass caster on a Victorian chair that indicates New York origin, as in-depth as high-end manufacture leading me to scour reference material for attribution, or as simple as trying to remember the pattern of a piece of Spode pottery.
There are endless possibilities to learn. Discovery auctions are a smorgasbord of affordable antiques that often realize prices in the hundreds, not thousands, of dollars. Occasional hidden gems come to light each month, but more often than not I find the breadth of items more amazing than the hammer prices.
Each walk through a Discovery auction preview is an opportunity to learn something new or to answer a question. The object of my momentary affection doesn’t have to be something that is particularly rare or valuable, it may just be unfamiliar. A recent preview gave me the chance to closely examine African figural carvings from Tanganyika, and another chance to look up the name of a long-forgotten British historical figure from the title on a Staffordshire pottery figural group. In both cases a brief foray though the auction preview added to my knowledge about antiques.
At 20+ years into my auction career I can honestly say that I learn something new each and every day. This is why I never tire of antiques, and why I can’t wait to browse the next Discovery sale.