Skinner Inc.

Auctioneers and Appraisers

Discovery Auctions in Massachusetts: Infographics, Word Clouds, and Maps

What does a Skinner Discovery Auction look like?

If you told me to visualize a Skinner Discovery auction, I’d think about our preview room full of antique furniture, ceramics, paintings, rugs, collectibles, and more. Then I’d see myself up at the podium at the monthly antiques auction, selling this variety of objects to bidders in the room, on the phone, and online. I definitely wouldn’t usually think of words, or maps, as a way to visualize the antiques auction process.

However, it takes a lot more than a room full of interesting antique finds to make an auction. Lots of work goes into each sale, and each auction  generates a great deal of data, including the consignor and bidder information, auction  estimates, prices realized, keywords, tags, and other metadata used to create our virtual thumbprint on the web, as well as advertisements and press releases. It’s a lot of information and a lot of work to make sense out of it.

Art & Infographics

One way of understanding data is through visual representations of information, or infographics. While the concept of rendering information in graphical form is as old as cave paintings, the development of science and statistics hastened the development of this means of communication. In the 19th century, Minard created his now famous graphic depicting Napolean’s disastrous march on Moscow.  It was quite a breakthrough in its time.

For a more modern infographic relating to the art world, see this striking representation from 2010 of the 10 most expensive pieces of art ever sold, scaled by the physical size of each piece of art. Alberto Giacometti’s six foot tall sculpture Walking Man I comes in at #1 with a price of $104.3 million.

Infographics can make a pile of raw data easier to understand. Edward Tufte’s modern classic The Visual Display of Quantitative Information provides an outstanding treatment of the topic.

A World of Data

These days, there are many Web based tools to facilitate graphical data analysis. Here at Skinner, I’m particularly struck by this map view of the June 2011 Discovery auction showing the distribution of a portion of online bidders globally:

The ease and accessibility of of internet bidding has made it possible for auctions in Massachusetts to draw bidders worldwide (even in Moscow!). This view of just some of our participants shows how globalized the antiques auction world has become.

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