RM Sotheby’s, Portola Plaza, Monterey, California, August 19-20, 2016
2016 posed some problems for RM Sotheby’s. The Convention Center where their auction had been held for as long as they’ve been on the Monterey Peninsula was a giant construction project.
The solution was simple [sic]: take the fountain (which hadn’t fountained in years) out of the middle of Portola Plaza and build a big, not quite Barrett-Jackson sized, tent in what had served as the preview area in years gone by.
The logistics were challenging, dealing with different levels and an intricate path to and from the auction block. The area left for previews and staging was cramped. RM responded by cutting the consignment by a third, from 150 in 2015 (a 3-day sale featuring the 25-lot Pinnacle Portfolio on Thursday) to 100 in 2016.
RM’s most-organized guy, setup master Greg Sparling, and his team mastered the site and pulled it all together seamlessly. You’d have thought this was how it was supposed to be, not an expedient solution to a fluid situation.
The Portola Hotel & Spa cooperated by holding off starting their lobby renovations until Monday after the auction giving RM room to display its headline lots in their usual setting.
Then six months ago another fly landed in the ointment when RM’s longtime auctioneer, multilingual, engaging Max Girardo, left to start his own business in the U.K. Max was endlessly entertaining and engaged the crowd and the bidders smoothly. Eli Rodriguez from Sotheby’s filled in nearly seamlessly for Max at Amelia Island (Eli was so close a Girardo clone that it took a number of Amelia onlookers well into the sale to realize it wasn’t Max) and at Motor City in July.
RM chose in Monterey to replace Eli with Bill Ruprecht. Bill was CEO of Sotheby’s until last year when activist investor Dan Loeb forced him out — just after Sotheby’s bought a 25% interest in RM Auctions. The cavernous venue with dubious acoustics coupled with reduced volume on Ruprecht’s mic (he was db below Alain Squindo’s introductions) and a laconic, pause-filled delivery made it difficult for the audience to keep track. Crowd noise was barely restrained. Even the video screen display was often out of sync.
The presentation might have been appropriate in the carefully tuned acoustics of Sotheby’s New York auction room selling Jackson Pollocks, Picassos and Damien Hirsts. It missed in Monterey where the bidders expect auction excitement on par with the excitement of the cars.
In the end RM Sotheby’s did well, bringing higher average and median transaction values than in the Pinnacle-fluffed 2015 sale although the 82% sell-through rate was the lowest since a whole long time ago. 2009 to be exact. Home runs were everywhere, from the Jaguar D-type and first Shelby Cobra to an obscure result of epic proportions for a 330 GT 2+2 ($737,000!) Even depressed by ‘fine art style’ auctioneering lightning still strikes in the Monterey auctions.
Andrew Newton was an invaluable contributor to the individual auction reports that follow.