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The Year at Hindman

2021 was a year of records at Hindman Auctions. The auction firm reported $87 million in total sales for the year, its highest total by far in the company’s 39-year history, setting over 30 individual auction records along the way. The year demonstrated not only the strength of the current auction market, but the success of Hindman’s investment in technology and its client-focused approach.

“Over the five years I have been lucky to be with Hindman, our business has more than doubled in size,” said Jay Frederick Krehbiel, Hindman’s CEO. “Building on the extraordinary legacy of our founders, Leslie Hindman and Wes Cowan, we have redoubled our efforts to be the most client-centric firm possible and I was thrilled to see our clients respond so enthusiastically this year.”

Hindman began 2021 by launching its Digital Bid Room, a proprietary online and mobile live bidding platform that allows clients to livestream and bid in auctions from anywhere in the world. Clients immediately took to the platform. Throughout the year, the Digital Bid Room accounted for $35.6 million in sales, nearly 41% of the yearly total.

In a year that Hindman set its firm record for sales total, it also set over 30 individual auction records. The Fine Art department set the pace for the company with records across several categories, including American & European, Post War & Contemporary, and Western art. The most notable achievement of the department came when Martin Wong’s 1984 acrylic on canvas Persuit (El Que Gane Pierde - He Who Wins Loses) set the world auction record for the artist selling for an astonishing $1.1 million, eclipsing the presale estimate of $500,000 - $700,000. The remarkable painting was consigned by the Rumsey Hall School in Connecticut, where it had been hanging in the common room of the boy’s dormitory miraculously unharmed for more than two decades.

Since first appraising an Andrew Clemens sand bottle on PBS’s Antiques Roadshow in 2002, Wes Cowan has set the auction record for the 19th century American artist’s unique pieces more than a half dozen times. In 2021, Cowan helped reclaim the auction record for Hindman selling a truly one-of-a-kind portrait bottle for $956,000, shattering the old mark by nearly $700,000. The bottle, which had a presale estimate of $100,000 - $150,000, was the top lot of the American Furniture, Folk & Decorative Arts auction held in Hindman’s Cincinnati saleroom in September.

Hindman was fortunate to work with a number of distinguished foundations and institutions to help bolster their holdings in 2021. Among those that publicly identified themselves this year was Art Bridges, who bought the record-setting Wong painting mentioned earlier. Art Bridges is an arts foundation dedicated to expanding access to American art across the U.S. The foundation works with museums of all sizes to create and support arts programs that educate, inspire and deepen engagement with local audiences.

In the fall, Kansas City’s Nelson-Atkins Museum added one of the most important photography archives in history to its collection when it purchased the Henry Fitz Jr. Archive of Photographic History at Hindman for $300,000. The cornerstone of the collection was one of the earliest photographic portraits taken in America: a profile image of Fitz himself. Fitz, a New York City telescope maker, also helped develop what would become the first patented camera in America.

Throughout 2021, Hindman handled several collections that were so remarkable that they merited a single-owner auction. Bidders responded strongly to these sales, eager to bid on carefully curated property from well-known collectors.

The first of the single-owner sales was the remarkable contemporary craft and studio furniture collection of Robert and Carolyn Springborn. Offered in March, this auction was a celebration of the studio furniture movement which emphasized self-designed, expressive furniture made entirely by hand. Bidders enthusiastically competed for pieces by acclaimed designers like Wendell Castle, Albert Paley, Wendy Maruyama, Sam Maloof, Toots Zynsky and Judy Kensley McKie, sending the auction past its presale estimate to a total of $563,281 on 60 lots.

November alone saw five single-owner sales across several categories. In Denver, property from local Native American and Southwestern Art collector Marilyn Eber sold for a combined total of $953,344, with works by contemporary Native American artists in particular soaring past their presale estimates.

Later that month in the Cincinnati saleroom, the acclaimed Civil War collection of James C. Frasca sold 98% of the lots offered, while more than doubling the presale estimate. The carefully curated and researched collection had been the envy of the collecting world for decades and featured weaponry, uniforms, accoutrements, photographs, documents and personal items used by soldiers on and off the battlefield.

As it has throughout Hindman’s history, the Jewelry & Timepieces department played a vital role in Hindman’s record year, accounting for more than $16.7 million of the company’s sales total. Highlights for the year included a spectacular diamond ring by Taffin that sold for $387,500 in September and an important Burmese ruby and diamond ring that sold for $287,500 in May.

The most active department at Hindman in 2021 was European Furniture & Decorative Arts, which held 36 auctions across five different salerooms for a combined total of $14 million. Among the highlights for the year was a marble statue of Hercules, likely from the 18th century, which sold for $56,250 in October and a set of six Irish George III embossed bird pictures by Samuel Dixon that sold for $34,375 in April.

Hindman celebrated its first year with a full-time Antiquities specialist achieving a remarkable $2.5 million, placing the firm on a par with a small cadre of auction houses internationally. The top lot in the category was a Roman marble sculpture of Eros riding a dolphin from the first or second century AD that sold for $137,500 (against an estimate of $25,000 - $35,000) in May.

The Books & Manuscripts department also had a record breaking year. The May auction set the house record for sell through rate for a various owner Books & Manuscript auction when 96% of lots sold. Six months later, the department set another house record for a various owner Books & Manuscript auction, this time for sales total, when the November auction achieved a total of $1.5 million. Among the highlights of the year was a first edition of The Federalist Papers, published in 1788, which sold for $175,000.  The department was also honored to handle selections from the studio and personal archive of wood engraver and book artist Barry Moser.

In the year ahead, Hindman will be celebrating its 40th year as it looks forward to building on its record setting 39th. Another slate of single-owner auctions is already taking shape including a sale of property from the Strong National Museum of Play (Rochester, NY) in March and the arms and armor collection of respected collector Larry Ness in June. Hindman’s commitment to improving the customer experience will continue and new features will be launched on the Hindman website and the Digital Bid Room. Hindman is currently accepting consignments for 2022 auctions in all collecting categories.

Hindman is one of the nation’s leading fine art auction houses connecting cities nationwide to the global art market and providing expertise across all categories, sales channels and price points. Hindman operates more salerooms in the United States than any other auction house and conducts over 120 auctions a year in categories such as fine art, jewelry and timepieces, modern design, books and manuscripts, couture, furniture and decorative arts, Asian art, Western art, and more. Hindman was formed through the acquisition of two premier auction houses, Leslie Hindman Auctioneers (est.1982) and Cowan’s Auctions (est. 1995). Headquartered in Chicago, Hindman is home to 150 employees, with additional offices in Atlanta, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Denver, Detroit, Milwaukee, Naples, Palm Beach, San Diego, Scottsdale, St. Louis and Washington D.C.