The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 23, Number 39, September 27, 2020, Article 16


Global crises like the current pandemic have a way of accelerating the inevitable, in this case the shift of business of all types online. We've seen the effects in the coin market, with in-person events shutting down and being replaced in one form or another with online events. Coin auctions have had an online component for some time but the situation forced a total break from the past. It was time to adapt or die. As we've seen, the coin trade is still alive and well despite the (hopefully temporary) loss of many beloved in-person shows.

This article from Artnet highlights the recent changes in the high-end art world, which has some parallels to the coin market albeit in a different realm. Here's a short except - see the complete piece online. -Editor

When auctioneer Oliver Barker stepped into the Sotheby's London salesroom on June 29 to helm its first-ever global livestreamed auction, the whole art world was watching. The evening would show not only whether Sotheby's could pull off a major sale in the social distancing era but also whether the predictions were true that the art market was heading into a painful, prolonged period of correction.

Ahead of the marquee sale, Sotheby's put enormous energy—and cash—into creating a production that looked seamless and polished in front of the camera. It enlisted Chrome, a production company that specializes in covering extreme sports, to optimize its salesroom layouts and audio systems in London, New York, and Hong Kong for broadcast capabilities. It hired stylists to dress Sotheby's specialists so that their outfits popped against the color scheme of each city's unique "set."

By the end of the four-and-a-half-hour marathon sale, Sotheby's had managed to pull in $363.2 million—including $84.6 million for a triptych by Francis Bacon. It was almost 5 a.m. in London when the cameras turned off and Barker left the rostrum. On three continents, staff descended from their raised platforms, stepped over tangles of black wires, dodged the AV crew members, and breathed a heavy sigh of relief. The auction had come out smack in the middle of well-managed presale expectations.

This round of summer sales—rescheduled from their traditional May dates—was essential for the optics of the market, if not a cure-all for its bottom line. The Big Three auction houses (Sotheby's, Phillips, and Christie's) generated a combined $825 million. That was enough to reassure a jittery sector—but it was a far cry from the $2 billion made during last year's marquee May auctions. (The success was also extremely well orchestrated: both Sotheby's and Christie's lined up guarantees for at least half the works in their sales.) As Christie's CEO Guillaume Cerutti hopefully put it, one of the biggest results of his major summer auction was "to give confidence to our clients."

Confidence, of course, was key at that critical moment—these were the first sales of a new era. Now comes the hard part: adapting for the long haul.

See the full article for five key predictions of where the market goes from here. I think we'll see a lot of the same in the numismatic market. Here's one more excerpt on the scale of the changes. -Editor

"In all my years in the art market, there has never been an external event that forced such immediate change," said David Norman, Phillips chairman of the Americas. "Business as usual went right out the window."

Art-market veterans said the sector has never faced a challenge on the scale of this one—not when Japanese buyers disappeared from the high-flying Impressionist market in the 1990s, not during the first Gulf War, not in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, and not in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis.

Some of the immediate changes made as a result—like the permanent elimination of almost all splashy and expensive catalogues, the migration of sales online, and the collapsing of departments and categories—were in fact a long time coming. Other, less predictable ones, like the deep cutbacks on entertainment, dining, and travel, as well as the significant layoffs, will change the way the business functions for at least the foreseeable future, for better or worse.

To read the complete article, see:
‘Business as Usual Went Right Out the Window': How Lockdown Forced Auction Houses Into the Future—for Good (

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Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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