Next month in London, Sotheby’s will hold an exceptional single-owner sale of pieces accrued by an anonymous collector over the course of two decades. It is expected to bring in around £4 million ($4.8 million). In a statement, the collector discussed the genesis for his collecting.
“I started this collection and realized that if I really spent time on it and was selective in my choices, I might be able to put together something significant and unique,” he said. “Two decades on, I think the collection is at that point where it is indeed unique.”
His collection consists entirely of bottles of whiskey—“the most valuable collection of whiskey ever to be offered at auction,” according to Sotheby’s. The blockbuster marketing of the winsome whiskey trove resonates with a growing pattern that has the art world’s two top houses moving into other collectible markets, from wine and liquor to historical artifacts and designer handbags.
To be sure, Christie’s and Sotheby’s have been pursuing this strategy for several years. Christie’s aggressively staffed up its handbags and accessories department in 2014, sparking a lawsuit
from a competitor in the process. The following year, Sotheby’s launched a partnership
with automobile auctioneer RM Auctions.
But in the past year, the dynamic has accelerated. In January, Sotheby’s caused a splash by offering up a complete set of limited-edition Supreme skateboard decks—248 in all, including decks featuring works by
—as a single lot, with a pre-sale estimate of $800,000 to $1.2 million. It eventually sold for its low estimate to Vancouver-based collector Carson Guo. Sotheby’s followed it up in May with another Supreme offering: an online sale of more than 1,300 objects spanning the streetwear brand’s history. Then in July, the auction house took a similar approach to sneakers, offering a collection of 100 pairs of shoes—some historically significant, others just very rare and expensive. Canadian car collector Miles Nadal snapped up the whole bunch, including a pair of Nike running shoes from 1972 that set a new world record
for shoes at auction, selling online for $437,500—more than double its high estimate of $160,000.
Both Christie’s and Sotheby’s have also been offering a growing array of artifacts of historical importance. Both auction houses organized sales timed to the 50th anniversary of the moon landing: Christie’s “One Giant Leap” sale brought in a total of $907,000, while Sotheby’s offloaded what it claimed were the best surviving video recordings of the moon landing for $1.8 million. In June, Christie’s set a new world auction record for a guitar when it sold the collection of Pink Floyd member David Gilmour, bringing in a total of $21.5 million. Next month, it will sell a trumpet specially designed for Miles Davis.
Signaling its commitment to such sales, Christie’s re-hired consultant Nancy Valentino—a powerful figure in the entertainment industry who’d worked at the auction house from 1991 to 2003 and established its “Popular Arts” division. Expect this fall’s auction calendar to feature an eclectic array of offerings, with bottles of whiskey and musical interludes punctuating the marquee sales of modern and contemporary art.