A very fine cat-alogue
Established in England in 1825, the auction house Cheffins has a rich history. One of their more modern traditions is to get all their auction catalogues printed with London’s Park Communications, which recently became part of the Graphius family. Graphius Magazine perused one of their most recent catalogues together with Cheffins’ general valuer, Christopher Halls, and head of paintings, Patricia Cross.
Graphius Magazine: Patricia, browsing the catalogue for your most recent Fine Sale, the playful work of Louis Wain – known for his characterisations of cats – jumps out. In particular, the pen-and-ink sketch of a monocled cat. Did this distinguished gentleman find a happy home?
Patricia Cross: This particular drawing was sold to an American private collector. Interestingly, we also had another work by Wain, a gouache depicting rabbits running through a wood – certainly less typical for him – that went to the same private collector and really exceeded my expectations, selling for £1,100.
GM: Has there been renewed interest in Wain’s work as a result of the Cumberbatch-led biopic or was it already an auction favourite?
PC: Louis Wain’s works have been highly collectable for years and have seen a steady increase in prices, particularly in the last decade. Wain has been on collectors’ radars partly thanks to the great number of publications about his life and work appearing between 1968 and early 2000s, starting with Rodney Dale’s Louis Wain: The Man who Drew Cats in 1968. His popularity has also, in my opinion, been driven to a large extent by Christ Beetles Gallery, who have championed Wain’s works and held regular exhibitions since the 1990s. I have not registered a significant increase in prices for his works as a result of the Cumberbatch biopic, but one could say it has certainly raised Wain’s profile and brought him to the forefront of public consciousness.
GM: What was your favourite piece among those sold in this past sale?
PC: One of the most extraordinary pieces was an old master painting that went for £22,000. A rare and newly discovered painting signed and dated by the Dutch artist Willem van der Vliet (1584-1642). It certainly reflects the strength of the Old Masters section of our Fine Sale.
GM: Christopher, the Cheffins website is a nifty alternative to a print catalogue. With it you can view past and upcoming auctions and even flip through virtual catalogues with interactive elements. What is the advantage of Cheffins continuing to put out a print catalogue?
Christopher Halls: The printed catalogue still has a value to us as a marketing tool. We use previous catalogues as sales tools when clients visit, to illustrate the breadth and quality of our offerings and to show them how well their items will be photographed and marketed.
GM: And the advantage for buyers?
CH: It also works for our potential buyers as it can make a client feel more special and valued if they receive a physical copy through their letterbox as opposed to just receiving an email reminder to view the catalogue on-screen.
GM: Do you see print catalogues ever going away?
CH: Although lockdown converted a lot of our buyers into ‘digital bidders’ – buyers who had previously shied away from bidding online but were forced to do so during lockdown – there are still buyers who prefer to view a paper catalogue before they bid either online or in person. We have noticed that some of our competition are giving up their paper catalogues – presumably as a cost cutting measure rather than a gesture to the environment – but we still see value in them.
GM: Does Cheffins take steps to offset the environmental impact of its catalogues?
CH: Absolutely. We are aware of the implications for the environment and apportion some of our budget to mitigating these affects. Our catalogues are printed on recycled stock with biodegradable lamination and mailed in compostable polybags. We also subscribe to Climate Partner to make our production carbon-neutral.