On the block at Weschler’s, an oil canvas by American artist Virgil M. Williams (1830-1886) is expected to sell for $30,000 to $50.000. Autumn is the start of a new auction season. From 18th-century glass to modern designs, many historic and unusual pieces will be going on the block.
If you collect antiques—or if you are simply curious about starting a collection—a local auction house is the place to be. There is no dealer markup and the previews offer a hands-on approach to learning. There are also special events, free appraisal days and lectures that make auction houses welcome gathering places for those just starting to collect.
Washington, Maryland and Virginia are home to a number of reputable auction houses. Below are 14 of the best.
909 E Street, NW, Washington DC 20004;
Weschler’s has been a Washington institution for more than a century. The auction house first opened a few blocks from the White House in 1890. Today it organizes dozens of yearly sales in the fields of rugs, jewelry, Asian art and 20th-century design. To find out more (especially, if you are new to the auction scene), stop by the weekly sale held every Tuesday, when Weschler’s sells a medley of furnishings and decorations suited to beginning collectors.
Alex Cooper Auctioneers, Inc.
908 York Road, Towson, MD 21204;
Alex Cooper goes way back with collectors—all the way to 1924. Its monthly auctions offer a range of decorative antiques and paintings. One field this house has made its own is Oriental rugs. There are thousands of new and antique rugs in Alex Cooper’s retail showroom. If Towson, Maryland, is not on your itinerary, a selection of the inventory is available for sale on the company’s Web site.
Guyette & Schmidt, Inc.
P.O. Box 1170, St. Michaels, MD 21663;
Guyette & Schmidt is the largest decoy auctioneer in the world. Not only has the company sold more decoys than any other, it has made 81 of the country’s top 100 decoy sales. Guyette & Schmidt holds three sales a year, in a variety of locations. If you cannot wait for the next one, check out the company’s online inventory of retail stock.
Old Town Auctions
P.O. Box 91, Boonsboro, MD 21713;
Remember the Topsy Turvy Tom Clown car you played with as a child? Old Town Auctions recently sold that very same model for $5,500. Children of all ages look forward to Old
Town’s toy sales. Save your allowance because bidding is competitive. Vintage advertising, such as Coca-Cola memorabilia, is another Old Town specialty. Last spring, a customer paid more than $9,000 for a 1930s light-up Coke sign. At the same sale, another bidder paid only $275 for a 1920s Coca-Cola poster.
A word of advice from co-owner Keith Spurgeon: “Collect what you like. Markets change; prices fluctuate. If your collection rises in value—great. If not, you still have something to enjoy.”
Richard Opfer Auctioneering
1919 Greenspring Dr, Timonium, MD 21093;
Looking for a fun afternoon? Richard Opfer holds three or four auctions a month. Go ahead and bid on that Victorian centerpiece—or, if your tastes run Modern, the Picasso-inspired vase. It’s all there. You could bid by phone—but isn’t it more exciting to go in person?
Sloans & Kenyon
7034 Wisconsin Avenue, Chevy Chase, MD 20815;
In the market for some Chinese porcelain? An Edwardian walking stick? An Art Deco drinks tray? Sloans & Kenyon has all that and more. Conveniently located in Chevy Chase, the house holds more than a half dozen sales a year. Not to be missed is the November holiday auction. If you have put off your shopping, Sloans & Kenyon can help. Surely, you’ll find something among the consignments—a pewter mug or a papier-mâché tea caddy—that would look nice under the tree.
Green Valley Auctions
2259 Green Valley Lane, Mt. Crawford, VA 22841;
Green Valley is a requisite destination for glass collectors. For decades, the Shenandoah Valley auction house has sold all types of glass, with some of the best lots acquired by museums. But what if you’re just starting out? Auctioneer Jeffrey Evans recommends Victorian pattern glass. “There are a lot of very interesting tumblers and celery vases,” he says, with prices ranging from accessible to aspirational. Be sure not to overlook the other consignment categories at Green Valley. Civil War memorabilia is another field where this auction house has built up a loyal following.
2109 India Road, Charlottesville, VA 22901; (434) 293-2904;
When the late Henry A. Frederick Hohler wanted to thin out his collection, the former English ambassador could have gone pretty much anywhere. On the block were the furnishings from his ancestral manor—just the sort of thing to interest one of the big New York houses. Instead, he chose Harlowe-Powell to sell his Regency candle stands and Queen Anne chairs. In addition to estate sales, Harlowe-Powell is active in the modern design market. Check the schedule if you are looking for tubular steel chairs or teak coffee tables.
Recent sales at Old Town Auctions included a Marx Ring-a-Ling Circus that sold for $2,420.
Ken Farmer Auctions and Appraisals, LLC
105 Harrison St, Radford, VA 24141;
Wedding silver is still “a must” for traditional couples, but that doesn’t mean it has to
come from a traditional retailer. Buy at auction and it will not take years and years to put together a dinner-party’s worth of knives and forks. Ken Farmer recently sold a repoussé silver pitcher for less than $100. And you paid how much for those candlesticks on your niece’s sideboard?
Motley’s Auction & Realty Group
4402 West Broad Street, Richmond, VA 23230
The Southern Americana market is hot. Stop by Motley’s, if you have any doubts. Last spring, the auctioneer sold an engraving of the painting The Last Meeting of Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee for $6,900. (The Civil War treasure was discovered in a storage locker.) At the same sale, there were some items of more recent vintage, including property from the estate of NASCAR driver Emanuel Zervakis. For a couple hundred dollars, lucky bidders took home racing trophies from the 1950s and ’60s.
Mount Vernon Auction Center
8726 Richmond Highway, Alexandria, VA 22309;
Virginia is auction-rich. Even the shopping malls have auction houses. At the Mount Vernon Auction Center in Woodlawn Shopping Center, you can pick up odd bits of silver and porcelain, for the equivalent of a Saturday at the mall. Mount Vernon sells the sort of things that do not get pushed to the back of the closet or tossed in the Goodwill bag.
The Potomack Company
526 North Fayette Street, Alexandria, VA 22314;
Although The Potomack Company only opened its doors last year, founder Elizabeth Haynie Wainstein is a familiar face to many collectors. She is the owner of Brockett’s Row Antiques store in Alexandria. A couple years ago, consignors began contacting her to sell their property. “I realized that there was a demand for a specialized auction house in the metropolitan area of northern Virginia and Washington, DC,” she explains. Her new auction house enjoys a strong reputation in the art world. In
Green Valley Auctions recently sold an 1845 Baltimore quilt for $30,800.
recent months, it has sold the collection of American landscape painter Ron Van Sweringen and the estate of the late Librarian of Congress, Daniel J. Boorstin.
Quinn’s Auction Galleries
431 North Maple Avenue, Falls Church, VA 22046;
Like many regional auction houses, Quinn’s is a family-owned business. It started small in the mid-1990s with monthly sales, and today holds, on average, five sales per month. Quinn’s is a family-owned business. It started small in the mid-1990s with monthly sales, and today holds, on average, five sales per month. Quinn’s also has an estate division to help clients with legal and logistical matters. From cleaning out the house to finding a buyer, Quinn’s can ease the anxieties associated with relocation and estate settlement.
431 North Maple Avenue, Falls Church, VA 22046;
Bibliophiles, take note: Waverly Auctions is the place for rare books. All genres pass through its sale rooms. Especially noteworthy is the annual sale of children’s and illustrated books in December. Last year, one lucky bidder took home an inscribed first edition of Horton Hatches the Egg. The final bid for the Dr. Seuss classic: $690. Also included in the sale are drawings and watercolors by Tasha Tudor. Prices start in the low thousands for the original work of the renowned illustrator.
A recent lot at the Potomack Company featured the collection of American landscape painter Ron Van Sweringen.
Quinn’s Auctions recently sold Subway Kiosk, 1937, by American artist Joseph Solman for $37,375.