Market and auctions

Online auctions: the evolution of the species.

Cliff Goodall's view

Photo credit: RM Sotheby’s

For the world of auction houses, whose fortune lies in rooms heaving with potential buyers, and important events designed to attract the right crowd, the months of lockdown imposed by the spread of the evil coronavirus are creating a truly dramatic situation.

Just consider, for example, the series of sales that RM Sotheby’s alone has been forced to cancel: Palm Beach (although this was turned into a remote auction), Essen (we’ll come back to this one), Auburn, Monaco and, worst of all, the Monterey auction that had been due to coincide with the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance (also postponed). Just to give you an idea of what this means in financial terms, last year the Monterey sale alone brought in more than 107 million dollars!

We are all familiar with Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” theory. Mindful of this concept, many auction houses are adapting to the times, determined to show their fitness to survive. As a result, online auctions are now popping up like mushrooms.

The charm of classic auctions is getting to see the cars on offer, perhaps even in the conditions in which they were found like this Daytona. But online auctions also have a charm of their own, you just have to try them
The charm of classic auctions is getting to see the cars on offer, perhaps even in the conditions in which they were found like this Daytona. But online auctions also have a charm of their own, you just have to try them

The first to act was H&H. Having been holding online sales in addition to traditional “physical” ones for a couple of years now, its system was already tried and tested, and so the transition was rapid and painless. The H&H program of sales kicked off on 18 March, and continued with a second sale on 29 April. These will be followed by two more, on 27 May and 24 June.

Auction giant RM Sotheby’s made the “switch” with its Palm Beach auction. The results of this sale must have been pleasing, given that it is being followed by a second online sale at the end of May. Meanwhile, the Essen sale, which had originally been due to take place at the end of March, was initially put back to the end of June. Now, however, given the circumstances, all the lots have been put online, and the sale has been rescheduled for June 3–11. Finally, RM Sotheby’s has decided to make its flagship Monterey auction an “Online Only” sale. Promoted by the company in a spectacular presentation video, this event  looks set to be the most thrilling of all, and likely has some surprises in store.

Although Bonhams has a fair bit of experience with online selling at ordinary auctions — a few years ago, it broke the online sale record with a Porsche 962, which came under the “virtual” hammer at 1.5 million euros —, until now it has never conducted an entire sale remotely. This auction house has two dates coming up: 30 May and 25 July.

CCA staged its first online sale at the end of March, “moving” the lots from its headquarters to its website. The sale was a great success, which the company hopes to repeat with a further auction on 13 June.

Instead, Barrett-Jackson (8–17 May), Silverstone (23 May) and Brightwells (28 May) are all gearing up for their baptism of fire.

These, then, are the dates of the online auctions currently scheduled (listed in chronological order). We recommend you click on the links!

Since many auction houses are currently making preparations to hold online auctions, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on their websites. But you can also count on us: we will be sure to keep you abreast of developments throughout the summer.