Bonhams Asia Head Carson Chan Expects Record Sales in November

With strong ongoing demand from Asian collectors for rare items, Carson Chan, Managing Director for Bonhams Asia, is expecting record sales at the firm’s November auction.

Your sales in May in Hong Kong totaled US$40 million, your biggest to date. It was a 29 percent increase on your November sales and a 50 percent increase on your previous May sales. Is that trend going to continue in November?
It’s going to be one of our strongest in Asia in terms of numbers of items and quality, so we’re expecting a record-breaking season. We’re continuing our specialty in snuff bottles and we’re very excited to announce we’re doing Asia’s first Leica auction. The overall estimate is HK$202 million and I’m cautiously optimistic we will exceed this.

Why were your recent auction results so strong, given that other auction houses in Asia have reported falls in sales?
We had some top pieces like an 18th-century painting of the famous Imperial consort Chunhui. It was an extremely rare oil on paper, and it sold to an Asian buyer for nearly HK$40 million. We also had the fifth sales of snuff bottles from the Mary and George Bloch collection, which achieved 100 percent sold. We also had a single owner auction of modern contemporary Chinese oil paintings by Chu Teh-Chun and Zhao Wou-Ki which attracted a lot of interest. I think as long as you offer some very unique items and excellent provenance there will be interest, regardless of the economic conditions. And I think that will be true coming into the current auction.

In this upcoming auction you have four single-owner sales. How competitive is the market to attract those sales?
Extremely. Collectors are looking for the best service, not just the best prices — although it’s an important factor, obviously. Many want top notch catalogue production facility so they have something to remember their collection by. And it’s not just the paper quality and cover, but the content, the research that goes inside.

What are Bonhams’ business plans in Asia?
We’ve been growing fast. This year we’ve added office managers in Beijing, Taiwan, and Japan, and we’re looking to open a new office in Singapore. We are a boutique auction house compared with the big players and I think it’s important to have our own identity. It’s only through this way you can survive in a market like this. It’s very easy to follow what others are doing and lose your own identity. We were the first one to promote independent watchmakers in auction back in 2007. We literally jump started snuff bottles and we are now the world leader for those. We were the first one to start a wine auction in Hong Kong in April 2008. We were also the first one to start whisky in November 2009, and cognac this year.

Are you looking to add new categories next year?
I wouldn’t say new categories, but new areas in existing categories. Maybe we do main-brand vintage jewelry, or just crazy independent watch designers; so sub-categories of existing ones

Read the rest of the interview on ARTINFO