The Sotheby's auction catalogue
This afternoon I sat in a room filled with extremely rich people mingled in with other less rich people that were either sent by someone infinitely richer or had that impossibly rich art dealer boss on the end of a phone signaling bids. Yes, I was at Sotheby's to witness the sale of Audubon's Birds of America at the behest of CBS News as they wanted me to pass comment on this the final stage of their planned piece on the great artist.
This was my first auction so the etiquette was very interesting to watch. Bidding was often signaled by the merest of movements so I was extremely nervous about scratching my head or lifting my glasses. In fact, at one point during the Audubon bidding (which was lot 50) I rubbed my chin and the autioneer shouted out '£6.1m' as he looked in my general direction. Luckily the bid increased to the eventual sale price of £6.4m (£7.5m after commissions etc).
The previous 49 lots were fairly swift with most people not hiding the fact that they were bidding. One book went for £1.1m in just a couple minutes. However, the Audubon auction was the main event and when the bidding began, encouraged by a very animated auctioneer, the room took on a totally different feel. As the cameras rolled, the room became hushed and everybody was looking at everybody else to try and register who the bidders were. Bidding started at £2.3m and towards the end when it broke the £5m barrier the bidding became a bit more transparent.
I just can't believe that so many people have so much money sloshing around. I think that I should produce an elaborately illustrated art book on the Birds of Wormwood Scrubs and see what I can flog it for in 10 years. What would you pay for it?