The New York Times had a nice profile of Heritage Auctions this week. Here's an excerpt - see the complete article online. Boom times at the nostalgia factory.
Objects with a bit of history have an obvious attraction in a high-tech world. The current cultural tumult, with its boom in fake images, endless arguments over everything and now the debut of imperious A.I. chatbots, increases the appeal of things that can't be plugged in.
At the same time, advances in technology mean it is ever easier to buy expensive things online. Bids at auctions routinely reach tens, even hundreds, of thousands of dollars.
One thing people are eagerly seeking with the new technology is old technology. Cormac McCarthy's typewriter, which he used to write a shelf of important novels, went for a quarter-million dollars. An Apple 1 computer fetched nearly twice that. A first-generation iPhone, still sealed in its box, sold for $21,000 in December and triple that in February.
Blend these factors — a desire for escape from our virtual lives; bidding as fast as pushing a button; and the promotion of new collecting fields like outdated technology devices — and you have Heritage Auctions in Dallas.
Heritage is a whirlwind of activity, of passion, of hype, constantly trying new ways of enticing people to own something beautiful and useless. Ninety-one million Americans, according to U.S. Census Bureau surveys, are having trouble paying household bills. Everyone else is a potential bidder.
There was a point in time when art and collectibles were dominated by old white men, said Josh Benesh, Heritage's chief strategy officer. I think that has been democratized. And the categories of material for sale have been democratized a lot.
Twenty years ago, Heritage had four categories: coins, comics, movie posters and sports. Now it has more than 50, which generated revenue of $1.4 billion last year. Everything, at least in theory, is collectible.
We don't question the value or legitimacy of a particular subject matter relative to outmoded norms, Mr. Benesh said. We're not here to tell you what's worthwhile. The marketplace will tell you. The bidders — Heritage has 1.6 million — will tell you.
The Heritage offices look like a cross between an Amazon warehouse and a very wide-ranging museum, with a dash of Hoarders thrown in.
In mid-2020, the privately held company moved to a 160,000-square-foot building by Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, doubling the size of its former headquarters. Hundreds of specialists, most of them collectors themselves, prepare hundreds of thousands of items for bids here — researching, photographing, writing catalog copy.
Stuff overwhelms desks; objects are piled to the ceilings in storage rooms; racks are full of items that have been bought and must be shipped.
In collecting, a little research goes a long way, whether the object is a coin or a baseball jersey.
A recent Heritage auction featured a 1948 Joe DiMaggio jersey. What made it special was the black armband attached to the left sleeve, a tribute to Babe Ruth after his death on Aug. 16 of that year. The Yankees' two greatest stars were thus linked for a few weeks.
The jersey was being sold by a collector, and there was no direct connection to DiMaggio. So Heritage sent photographs of it to Resolution Photomatching in Seattle.
Resolution found a contemporary picture that showed DiMaggio apparently wearing the shirt, although without the mourning band. The tiny imperfections in the flannel were the same. The jersey sold for $564,000.
To read the complete article, see:
Yes, People Will Pay $27,500 for an Old ‘Rocky' Tape. Here's Why.
Wayne Homren, Editor
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