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Buying Art at Auction Instead of a Gallery

Auctions are typically a wonderful way to access artworks from private and institutional collections that have a known provenance. However, not all auctions and art auctioneers are created equal, and there are many factors that make purchasing art at auction different from buying out of a commercial gallery.

The Ability to Plan

With commercial galleries and even at art fairs, buyers may not know in advance what the dealer has available or what additional inventory he or she may have. An auction, on the other hand, allows purchasers to plan and research potential pieces of interest in advance. Art auctioneers publish catalogs of upcoming sales and the items included, so that potential buyers will be able to make a plan before attending the sale.

The Buyer’s Premium

Depending on the auction platform, buyers will likely be responsible for paying an additional fee—or buyer’s premium—that will be a percentage of the final hammer price. Sometimes these amounts are set percentages while other houses may cap premiums at a certain amount, particularly when handling high value sales.

A Central Marketplace

Particularly in art, auctions can serve as a transparent marketplace for purchasers. While commercial galleries may never release sales figures, auction houses will typically post the information publicly following a sale.

At the same time, it can be impossible to figure out what budgets a gallery caters to without knowing each artist’s individual market, so an auction may allow purchasers of all budgets access to a range of works across different styles.

Research Resources

Since art auctioneers publish catalogs before sales, potential buyers have the opportunity to do in-depth research on the artists or work they are interested in. This may mean accessing an online database to see past sales history, or talking with professionals in the art field about the specifics of a piece.

Furthermore, works at auction will typically come with appraisals and provenance details for each work. This allows purchasers both before and after a sale to know how long the work has been available, where it has been shown, and any prominent collections or institutions it has been part of.


How Auction Houses Help Heirs Deal With the Contents of an Inherited Home

When a loved one passes away, it is typically left up to the heirs and/or the executor of an estate to determine what should be done with the contents of a home. This can be a very emotionally wrenching and difficult task. Homes, especially those of the elderly, often contain thousands of items and while many items will probably end up being worthless, there is always the chance that other things could potentially be worth a lot of money.

On the other hand, there are also items in a home that may seem valuable to an heir that may in reality have little to no value. For example, the deceased may have left a set of chairs that the heirs have always been told were Chippendale and possibly worth tens of thousands of dollars. Yet, when the heirs try to sell them, they learn that the chairs are merely cheap reproductions.

So how should a person go about determining what items in an estate are actually valuable and what may be worthless? If there is the possibility that the home may contain valuable antiques, the heirs may want to consider hiring a professional auction house to come to the house to appraise the contents. They will have the expertise to determine whether or not an heir has inherited treasures or trash.

Even estates that may seem to contain nothing of value may hold surprisingly valuable items. For example, in 2000, a man purchased two boxes of glass plates containing images of Yosemite National Park for $45 at a garage sale. Those plates later tuned out to be negatives take by iconic American photographer Ansel Adams and were estimated to be worth $200 million. Sadly, the original owner of the plates lost out on making any real money on these treasures. Money they might have been able to keep for themselves if they had just hired an auction appraiser. Because chances are that a knowledgeable appraiser would have recognized the true value of these extraordinary plates and not have sold them for $45.

In some cases, auction houses will also list and sell items for an estate—in effect, becoming estate liquidators—which can be a real bonus for heirs or executors who just don’t have the time to deal with disposing the contents of a home on their own.


Art Auction Houses and the Sales Catalog

One of the biggest advantages to purchasing artwork at auction is that art auction houses publish catalogs well in advance of each sale that describe each piece. Often each listing will have images, estimated sale amounts and notes on the piece’s condition. For many collectors the sales catalog becomes a collection piece in and of itself, particularly for notable sales at houses that still publish printed books.

However, the catalog is equally important to the auction house as well. First of all, it provides a detailed record of what was listed at every auction. Second of all, it allows for easy organization and access for processes like sales order and price recording.

Creating the Catalog

Art auction houses may have a dedicated team of employees that specialize in producing catalogs for each auction category. Often these individuals have advanced degrees in their respective field, and they have experience writing about the history and market of art. By having art professionals who specialize in particular market areas, the auction houses can help to ensure that the objects they have listed are appropriately categorized and valued.

The catalog will typically list items in the order that they will appear in the sale. This means that the layout of the sale needs to be determined before the catalog can be published.

Catalogs as Research Resources

A huge benefit of auction catalogs for both collectors and art researchers is that they allow for the tracking of previous sales history. This is an essential tool for determining an item’s accurate provenance. Most art auction sales are typically based on a certain style or time period- such as an Old Master’s sale or an American Art sale. Therefore, it is easy to search catalogs by keyword or subject in the same way one would find any other references.

The Library of Congress has started to record catalogs of prominent art auctions throughout history. This serves as a database of resources for researches of provenance and for those looking for relative market values throughout history. Similarly, most major art museums and university libraries contain significant holdings related to art auction houses’ catalog history.


An Exceptional Opportunity March 7, 2016: The Naomi Lindstrom Collection – Rare Worldwide Beads & Multicultural Art Auction

Michaan’s Auctions is proud to present a most singular offering on Monday, March 7, 2016, at 10 am: an auction of the prized worldwide bead and extensive art collection of Ms. Naomi Lindstrom. Collectors and lovers of extraordinary beauty will be awestruck at these objects that are steeped in cultural and historical significance.

The World’s Most Significant Bead Collection

Selling in over 290 lots, Ms. Lindstrom’s rare beads comprise the most significant collection in the world and originate from over 50 regions. One of the highlights is a set of rare Tibetan corals that Ms. Lindstrom acquired when she spent time working with the Dali Lama’s brother and sister.

Ms. Lindstrom became a renowned expert on the beads she collected, and was a sought after lecturer by museums and cultural centers around the world. She created necklaces from her beads which were true to the cultural heritage of their country of origin.

Treasured Art & World Ethnographic Objects

In addition to the stunning worldwide bead collection, Michaan’s Auctions will also offer rare items from Ms. Lindstrom’s Asian Art collection. The distinctive nature of these pieces provide buyers with opportunities to own some of the most treasured Asian Art (including figural sandstone pieces). Also for sale will be a collection of over 80 lots of world tribal and ethnographic objects.

Another incredible highlight of this auction will be over 31 lots of artwork from Ms. Lindstrom’s personal collection. Buyers can look forward to bidding on art by John Chin Young, Oscar Edwards, Fernand Leger, Jean Charlot, and many other noted artists.

The public is encouraged to attend the preview events at Michaan’s Auction House leading up to and including the day of the sale:

Friday, March 4, 12pm – 5pm

Saturday, March 5, 10am – 2pm

Sunday, March 6, 9am – 5pm

Day of sale, beginning at 9am

and by appointment.

A Truly Magnificent Auction of Exquisite Art & Rare Items

Beads, art and rare objects from Pre-Columbian, Roman and other historical periods will be featured at this auction, plus items from Africa, India, China, Japan, Korea, Southeast Asia and many other regions will be offered. Fine art, furniture and many more intriguing and exquisite objects round out this incomparable sale. This is a truly one-of-a-kind auction that will appeal to a wide audience.

Please review our catalog that fully describes The Naomi Lindstrom Collection and plan to attend one of Michaan’s Auctions’ preview events for this March 7, 2016 sale.


The Importance of Provenance at Art Auctions

The value of artwork is often determined by a number of factors, including what collections it has been part of, where it has been shown, and how many times it has been sold. Art auctions are often considered to be the most transparent marketplace in the art world for the simple fact that they value items according to history and provenance. They also publish sales results, usually alongside the pre-sale estimates, that helps both dealers and collectors understand how particular artists perform at market.

The Basics of Provenance

Typically, an art piece’s provenance will include key factors in that work’s history. This both contributes to the price valuation of the piece and helps to authenticate it as a legitimate work by the artist. Collectors may look for pieces that have been at auction before, as this will typically mean that several appraisals of the piece and its provenance have already been done.

Art auctions at reputable houses will collect related materials such as certificates of authenticity, exhibition catalogue material, and receipts for previous sales. The supporting information for the provenance is itself deemed to be authentic, and the piece’s history can then be tracked.

The Guarantee

The point of collecting a piece’s provenance is to guarantee future buyers that the piece is legitimate and authentic. Ideally, this helps auction houses price their objects and removes the chance for any future disputes and liability.

Problems of Provenance

While art auctions will typically seek to disclose as much information about a piece for sale as possible, often it is impossible to know the full history of a piece. Sometimes past owners wish to keep their possession or liquidation of a piece a secret. Other times, wrong information can be presented such as incorrectly including work in shows.

Particularly with older pieces that have been sold and resold countless times, a clear timeline of ownership and exhibition is typically impossible. However, the provenance of a piece can still be relatively understood based on where the piece has traveled, and through examination of related documents like museum exhibition catalogs. If there is doubt of the piece’s authenticity, it will typically be listed as “attributed to” the artist.


Just Bead It: Worldwide Lindstrom Collection, March 7

Naomi Lindstrom (1924-2014) was a collector of the purest sense. A longtime flight attendant for Pan Am, she traveled the world rubbing elbows with sheiks and presidents, all the while collecting what she loved along the way. Her fifty years of collecting became a personal journal of sorts, a testament to a life of adventure, intellect and visual curiosity. Michaan’s Auctions is proud to present these objects on March 7, 2016, chronicling the love and life of Ms. Naomi Lindstrom, expressed in treasures found from around the globe.


What has been described as the most significant collection of world beads in the United States, the bulk of the auction comprises international and ancient pieces from Naomi’s prized bead accumulation in over 290 lots. Beads composing necklaces and other curiosities at sale are from over fifty noted origins, spanning a dizzying world list ranging America to Africa, Germany to Java and Mexico to Morocco to name a few. Virtually all are of her design, while remaining true to cultural heritage. Some beautiful picks from the collection:

Lot 4364: Tibetan Coral & Gilded Metal Necklace, $20,000-30,000.

Lot 4364: Tibetan Coral & Gilded Metal Necklace, $20,000-30,000.


Lot 4376: Central Asian Agate Bead Necklace, $14,000-18,000.

Lot 4376: Central Asian Agate Bead Necklace, $14,000-18,000.


Lot 4282: Pre-Columbian Tairona Bead Necklace, $4,000-6,000.

Lot 4282: Pre-Columbian Tairona Bead Necklace, $4,000-6,000.


Lot 4340: Chinese White Jade Bead Necklace, $2,000-4,000.

Lot 4340: Chinese White Jade Bead Necklace, $2,000-4,000.


Lot 4426: Ancient Luristani Persian Gold Necklace, $2,000-4,000.

Lot 4426: Ancient Luristani Persian Gold Necklace, $2,000-4,000.


For more information on the Naomi Lindstrom Collection auction as well as future Lindstrom collection pieces to be offered in upcoming estate sales, please call (510) 740-0220 ext. 0 or e-mail The illustrated auction catalog will be posted online at when it becomes available. Previews will be held on the 5th, 6th and 7th, the day of sale. Michaan’s Auctions is located at 2751 Todd Street, Alameda, CA 94501.



December Fine 2015: Red Lizard to Red Sea

It’s time to show off! Michaan’s December fine sale season brings to the showroom floor some of the most outstanding property presented all year. Exciting offerings of jewelry, fine art, furnishings and decorative arts will be made available on December the 11th, with a dedicated Fine Asian Works of Art auction on December the 14th. So, what do you have to look forward to? By the looks of these department highlights, quite a lot…


Jewelry: Hermès Rouge Lizard 32 cm Kelly Bag, Circa 1991 (Dec. 11, $15,000-20,000).

Jewelry: Hermès Rouge Lizard 32 cm Kelly Bag, Circa 1991 (Dec. 11, $15,000-20,000).


Fine Art: Attributed to Charles Le Brun, Crossing the Red Sea, after Poussin (Dec. 11, $500,000-700,000).

Fine Art: Attributed to Charles Le Brun, Crossing the Red Sea, after Poussin (Dec. 11, $500,000-700,000).


Furniture & Decorative Arts: Tiffany Table Lamp with Tyler Glass Shade (Dec. 11, $15,000-20,000).

Furniture & Decorative Arts: Tiffany Table Lamp with Tyler Glass Shade (Dec. 11, $15,000-20,000).


Asian: Fu Baoshi Hanging Scroll Wandering Poet (Dec. 14, $200,000-300,000).

Asian: Fu Baoshi Hanging Scroll Wandering Poet (Dec. 14, $200,000-300,000).


For more information on Michaan’s December fine sale season, please call 510-740-0220 and visit


Beauty from a Beast: Hermès Crocodile Kelly Bag

At Michaan’s appraisal event on August 5, 2015, unexpected luxury walked through the door in the form of an authentic Hermès black crocodile Kelly bag. Brought in by a private Tiburon consignor, the piece showed all the earmarks of an original, further solidified by the accompaniment of Hermès packaging as well as an official Hermès of Paris refurbishment receipt dated to July 9, 2015. Hermès aficionados know such a receipt is a golden ticket so to speak, as the manufacturer will reject performing a service on any bag that is not an authentic Hermès.

HermesKelly copy


Time to loosen the purse strings for this purse!  The Hermès 32 cm black crocodile Kelly bag will be sold in Michaan’s estate auction of October 10, 2015 at an estimate of $17,000-20,000. For more information on this auction feature, please call Ms. Rhonda Harness at (510) 227-2525 or e-mail at


Asian Fine of June 2015, by the Numbers

Drumroll please (drrrrrrrr)……..The top five sale figures ladies and gents:

One – The auction realizes over $2.8 million USD, becoming Michaan’s second highest grossing Asian auction.

Two – Fu Baoshi’s Lady by the Bamboo realizes over seven times estimations at $1,410,000.

lady copy

Three – A victory sail (sale) of Lin Fengmian’s Boats at Shore, which more than doubles the high estimate at $88,500.

boats copy

Four – Bowled over by the sale of the Jiaqing period piece at over four times the high estimate for $82,600.

bowl copy

Five – A hot ticket found in Guangxu period ice chests, selling for over twelve fold estimates at $76,700.

ice copy

June ji zyr (auspicious day), xiexie (thank you)!


Michaan’s: Making Sure a Fine Time is Had By All

The month of June brings two fine sales to Michaan’s auction room floor. The first will be held on Friday the 19th in a Fine Art, Furniture, Decorative Arts and Jewelry sale. Feast your eyes on a selected sale highlight from each department…


Jewelry: An Approximate 4.00 Carat Diamond & Platinum Ring (lot 3200, $35,000-55,000)

finediamond copy

Furniture & Decorative Arts: A Magnificent Tiffany Sterling Centerpiece Bowl (lot 3417, $50,000-70,000)

Tiffanyplatter copy

Fine Art: Wojciech Fangor’s Oil on Canvas M1 (lot 3274, $80,000-120,000)

fangor copy

That’s not all folks. On Monday, June 22, 2015 is the Fine Asian Works of Art auction. The approximate 230 lot sale includes vibrant and exceptional property in the forms of porcelains, jades, furniture, corals, artworks, decorative objects, scrolls, bronzes and textiles.


Asian: Fu Baoshi’s Hanging Scroll Lady by the Bamboo (lot 6222, $150,000-200,000)

baoshi copy

For more information on Michaan’s June fine auctions please call (510) 740-0220 ext. 0 or e-mail The illustrated auction catalogs will be posted online at when they become available. Michaan’s Auctions is located at 2751 Todd Street, Alameda, CA 94501.


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