A trader on a well known online auction site is currently advertising a piece of Art Nouveau Arts & Crafts furniture at a “Buy it Now” price of $21m. Thought to be an 1891 Gift of Ascension from Queen Victoria to Queen Liliuokalani of Hawaii, it is due to be auctioned on August 26th – at a reserve of just 0.99, meaning it could turn out to be a Red Herring for bidders in Cumbria.
From antique desks to Chinese vases, antique auctions regularly hit the news. However, these are generally “bricks and mortar” salerooms, not – all-purpose online sites. These offer far less protection to the buyer, who can easily be tripped up by clever advertising. In other words, a buyer in Lancashire may find his Victorian dining chairs arriving in book form, unless he checks the ad carefully.
The $21m item is supposedly a silver-embossed choir-conducting podium, owned by Queen Liliuokalani of Hawaii. It first turned up in a collection of sketches by noted Arts & Crafts furniture designer William Cowie, in 2005. In 2006, the actual cabinet turned up at a sale in Honolulu – priced at $100!
The buyer certainly got a bargain, as the provenance appears to be proven, and in 2007 it was put up for auction for $7m. This has now risen to $21m. The question is, why not sell it through Sotheby’s or Christie’s? And why not announce it as a rare piece of Queen Liliuokalani Arts & Crafts furniture, rather than “.99CT vintage Hawaiian guitar uke music”?
It’s best to avoid online auction sites when buying furniture such as antique desks; Lancashire antique dealers are far safer.
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