Thinking about going to the bankruptcy auction at the home of Real Housewives NJ’s Teresa Giudice? Baristanet has coffee with auction veteran John Nye, who, along with wife Kathleen, own Nye & Company Auctioneers, Appraisers and Antiques, in Montclair.

How long have you owned Nye & Company?

We acquired the business from Ken and Linda Dawson back in 2003. At that point I had been at Sotheby’s for 15 years and had been the Head of American Furniture and Decorative Arts
I didn’t want to get away from the things that make the job special, so Kathy and I saw an opportunity to acquire the local auction house in New Jersey. We live in South Orange, and they [the Dawsons] were ready to retire, so we bought the business and the rest is history.
Have you changed the business much since you bought it?
We came a long way. We’ve grown the company, we’ve changed the name, we moved the location due to various reasons. And now we’re here in Montclair.

Why Montclair?

Oh, lots of different things. Our (old) location in Morris Plains had been a destination. Our entire operation was under one roof in an office park, far off the beaten path. There was almost no walk-in traffic. We live in South Orange and knew Montclair had a history of being an antiques community and it was closer to New York and closer to home and there was space available on Bloomfield Avenue, which would give us higher visibility that we lacked in the previous location.
How has the community responded?

I think the community has been terrific. I also think it’s taking time for people to become aware that we’re here. We’ve gotten nice attendance at the auctions, but we’re not getting the kind of walk-in traffic we expected to have by having this high-visibility location on the street.
What are you doing to generate more walk-in business?
One of the things we’re doing is Free Appraisal Mondays, which is a way to get people to come in and discover we’re here and bring something from their home. We also offer, during the regular course of business, all kinds of other appraisal services, from insurance to fair market value and equitable distribution — any type of appraisal you can think of. But on Mondays, it’s more of off-the-cuff “This is what you have; this is what it’s worth; come back and see us some time” evaluation.
How do you determine an object’s value?
From the appraisal standpoint, the way we’ve determined value is by looking at the object, determining its integrity–what has or hasn’t been done to it since it was made — and then compare it to other examples that have sold recently.
Some of that research we can do by virtue of the fact that we have frequently scheduled auctions and lots of material going through our hands, so we can be pretty up-to-date on the value of many things. If we’re not familiar with an object, then we go online to the various databases to which we subscribe and we can look up similar objects that have been through other auction houses and compare the size, medium and condition of our object to something else that has been sold and come up with a comparable value based on other pieces having gone through auction.
Could you walk me through what an auction is like?
One of the things that I’d like to be able to do is to demystify the auction process, so people don’t feel the intimidation that inevitably comes with an auction or attending an auction or the misconception that if you twitch or accidentally scratch your cheek, you’re going to own something you can’t afford or don’t want to own.
The auction is really the culmination of weeks of work. We’ve gone around the tri-state area and further afield to get some consignments. Once they arrive, they’re all processed and put together in a catalogue and then we have a week-long preview (two week-long preview online) or public exhibition when people can see the objects, and unlike a museum where things are behind velvet ropes, these are here to be sold and they’re going into your home, so there’s no reason to sequester the pieces. So people look at them, touch them, turn them over, take them apart if need be, study the marks, inspect them for condition. And then, based on what they see, compared to how we’ve catalogued it and estimated it, they’ll determine if it’s a good value or if we’re too aggressive. We also provide condition reports for people who can’t make it to the auction, which allows them the opportunity to bid either on the telephone or online.
Once the auction takes place, people need to register their bid, so we’ve got their contact information, then they get a paddle number. Then they sit in the room (if they decide to come to the sale) and bid up to their limit. I should mention that people don’t necessarily have to be in the room — they can leave bids with us, so they can bid in absentia; they can also bid on the phone.
The most recent innovation in auction participation is the Internet — not like an eBay auction where it takes two weeks to start and finish — this is live real-time bidding in the room.
As the auctioneer, I’ll be taking bids from one of four different sources–it’s a lot to keep in mind. I’m looking at the picture on the screen, the estimates that are in the book, the reserve, which is the least amount of money a consignor or seller will accept for a piece that goes through an auction. And then I have to start the bidding below the reserve because in order to get the bidding–by definition, once the bidding has equaled or exceeded the reserve the piece has sold.
As the auctioneer, I bid on behalf of the consignor and I make announcements in the beginning of the sale that says “I’ll be bidding on behalf of the consignor up to the point of the reserve.” Once the reserve is met, then I turn the bidding over to the room, the telephone, the Internet and absentee bidders, and I’ll let them compete with each other.
Once the bidding has stopped, that’s known as the “hammer price” because that’s when the gavel comes down, indicating something has sold. Then I announce “There’s a 19 percent buyer’s premium added and if you’re not tax-exempt, you pay tax on the aggregate of the hammer price and buyer’s premium.”

Tell me about your favorite auction.

There have been some fun sales. It doesn’t have to be a celebrity environment for it to be fun or successful, although I will say the celebrity auctions do tend to bring in a larger audience. Probably, the most fun auction was the estate of Luther Vandross. We had seven tractor trailers worth of material that belonged to him that had been in his Los Angeles, Manhattan and Greenwich, Connecticut residences and it was great quality stuff.
Like what?
Very high-end Art Deco and Art Nouveau furniture, beautifully upholstered leather contemporary furniture, brand-name decorations by Lalique and Baccarat and other French designers.
Because he was such a showman, we got tons of his clothing. Some of it was worn onstage and some of it was for his personal use. We had a whole hallway of gold records. We sold a huge amount of material.
Were you a part of any high profile auctions?
One of the more interesting auctions from the celebrity standpoint was the Jackie O. sale because it got massive amounts of press, which, in turn, brought massive amounts of people to the galleries. People were paying preposterous amounts for things–$400,000 for her golf bags; $211,000 for her fake pearls–crazy, crazy prices like that.
How is the market right now?
It’s a buyer’s market across the board. The market right now is being hurt, if you will, by a few different impulses. There’s the weak economy, for one thing. People aren’t ready to spend; they’re reticent to come to an auction and spend a lot of money.
Another thing is that collecting trends are showing and domicile magazines and those types of things are showing Mid-Century Modern to be popular, so the English country house, the mahogany and walnut furniture, the Oriental rugs, the heavy draperies on the windows and the chintz-upholstered, down-filled club chairs are totally out of fashion. This stuff is bringing in modest amounts of money.
Also, there’s been an emphasis on electronics, which are instant gratification. People are into new, modern electronics. There is a growing influence of electronics as status symbols.
Do you have any shows coming up?
We have a September auction coming — it’ll be a smorgasbord of estate property.

Liz George is the publisher of Montclair Local.

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