Many St. Louisans know that Ivey-Selkirk is an institution, having been around since 1830. But what some may not know is that it’s the second-oldest auction house in the United States. Ladue News spoke with owner/president Malcolm Ivey, an industry veteran for more than 20 years.
LN: Among your many hats is that of auctioneer. how did you become one?
MI: All our auctioneers started the same way: We were asked if we wanted to do it, then we got our practice doing monthly auctions, conducting sales of low- to medium-value property. Sure, there were ‘auction schools’ around, but we never did that. For us, it was trial by fire.
LN: What is the auctioneer’s most important role?
MI: Being able to judge the audience and use that judgment and experience to manage the pace of the auction. In today’s market, you need to get a feel for where the audience stands. It’s hard to read people from time to time, and obviously, the economy affects things. But good auctioneers will realize early on if it’s going to be a tough crowd.
LN: What makes a crowd tough?
MI: A lot of it has to do with the property being offered. If it’s exciting, the audience will respond enthusiastically. If not, it will take a little more time to get the audience excited about it.
LN: How do people hear about your auctions?
MI: We have an extensive mailing list, and we advertise locally and internationally.
LN: Do you have a lot of the same people showing up all the time?
MI: Absolutely. Because we’ve been around for so long, we have St. Louisans who’ve followed us for generations and it’s a routine for them. Our major sales are held over the weekend. It’s the perfect ‘cheap date’ it doesn’t cost a thing to register and you’ll learn about the current prices of art, antiques and other collectibles.
LN: What’s the scene like on auction day?
MI: We usually set up in the Forsyth Gallery, our main venue. We’ll have 400 chairs facing the stage and auctioneer. The items will already be in numerical order, and they’re presented by type, so they’ll either be all American pieces or all English at one time. We publish a catalog beforehand, so many of the people who come already know what’s being featured.
LN: Is there a dress code?
MI: It used to be a lot more formal in the old days. Now, we have people dressing very casually, sometimes even in shorts and T-shirts in the summer.
LN: Are there any important rules of etiquette that attendees should keep in mind?
MI: It’s good to keep the noise level down, but of course there’s still some conversation going on. Most people are cognizant about what to do, and know that they’re not supposed to yell across the room to somebody or have their cell phones on.
LN: What’s your biggest auction event of the year?
MI: Our gallery sales are big. We have six of those a year, including the Spring Gallery Auction this weekend. Our Modernism sales, in May and November, are also popular.
LN: What’s the most significant piece you’ve auctioned off in recent memory?
MI: A Frederic Church painting that sold for $2.6 million in 2007.