Small-Town House Brings Big-Ticket Sales
How a small Georgia auction house has embedded itself in the modern world of antiquated offerings
By Barbara Basbanes Richter & Emily ByrdBarbara Basbanes Richter is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Fine Books & Collections based in New York. Emily Byrd lives in North Carolina and is the editorial cordinator of special publications at Journalistic, Inc.
With the ascent of Addison & Sarova Auctioneers, Michael Addison has captained a boutique auction firm that he says “applies the best of the large auction houses with a personal touch.” Addison and his wife, Elena Sarova, decided to open the Macon, Georgia-based auction house as an outcropping of a lifelong passion for collecting. The auction house focuses exclusively on rare books, manuscripts, and maps, which Addison had already specialized in while buying and selling for many years before officially entering the business as an auctioneer.
Just as the provenance of an item factors heavily into its value, the name of the auction house at which it is sold can add substantial weight, something that Addison is well aware of. Addison & Sarova has rapidly succeeded in establishing itself as a landmark for quality offerings and exciting sales. At around 96 percent, the firm’s sale rate is impressive, and an estimated 30 percent of lots sell above pre-sale projections. For instance, the recent sale of Jonathan Edwards’ 1741 Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God fetched $27,000, easily toppling the previous record of $9,200 for the same item. Another example of Addison & Sarova’s prowess was on display last year when they sold Montalboddo’s scarce Itinerarium Portugalensium (Milan, 1508, with 2nd issue map) for a record-shattering $240,000. While many of Addison’s methods are proprietary, he explains much of his success by pointing to several factors: fair and friendly interaction with the bidders, hard work, a deep knowledge of the rare book market, and continual study of modern auction psychology and methodology.
The firm’s noteworthy offerings and fast-paced sales draw buyers from around the globe. “We have bidders in Manhattan and Hong Kong and everywhere in between. The perception is that the houses in the major population centers are best, but that isn’t true in the modern auction market. I could run this auction out of a broom closet in Alaska and still get superior results,” Addison says. He estimates that 80 percent of all bids are placed online, and bidders can’t be confined to any one city, nation, or continent. For potential consignors, Addison’s modern methods and attention to detail are a big draw. In fact, in 2012, Pulitzer Prize-winning author (Lonesome Dove) and Academy Award-winning screenwriter (Brokeback Mountain) Larry McMurtry entrusted his collection of 300,000 volumes to the fledgling firm. Addison says that his sales skills come from years observing large auction houses from the other side of the industry, as a collector and antiquarian book dealer. “I looked at what the established places were doing, and when I threw my hat into the ring, I took the best qualities from each and left out the chaff,” he says.
This season, one can expect only the finest finds at Addison & Sarova. For example, the upcoming November sale featuring selections from the Robert Easton library will include incunabula and coveted first editions. As has come to be expected from this auction house, lots will be hammered down quickly and successfully, so potential buyers should stay on the lookout for exceptional items and seize their opportunities.