Headquarters: New York
Best bets: books, works on paper,
Founded as a rare-book auctioneer, Swann still holds dozens of such sales a year. And it has “kept things two-dimensional,” said the president, Nicholas D. Lowry, in terms of what goes on the block. He noted that Swann was the first auction house to sell vintage photographs, in 1952. The house has also had a dedicated department of African-American art for 12 years, setting records like the $965,000 paid in 2015 for a painting by the Abstract Expressionist Norman Lewis. “We helped create that market,” Mr. Lowry said, “and it’s had a groundswell of support that hasn’t waned.”
Headquarters: Hudson, N.Y.
Best bets: English and Continental
furniture and paintings, modern and
Colin Stair, the founder and president, comes from a long line of antiques dealers, and his Hudson Valley auction house takes the long view, too. “I’m big on exhibitions,” Mr. Stair said, of the five- to 15-day display times for upcoming lots, longer than normal. “We put on a good show, and people like to look at stuff.” Stair, on Hudson’s main drag, is frequented by dealers and bargain hunters, and it’s a place to find interesting decorative arts lots like a George I carved walnut wing armchair, estimated at $1,200 to $1,800, coming up as part of a sale on April 28 and 29.
Best bets: 20th-century and
“We’ve mined deeply one area, and that’s how we built our reputation,” said the founder, Richard Wright, of the house’s laserlike focus on modern design. He noted that the average lot price at the house is around $7,000 and that there are many entry-level buyers, given how popular design has become. One of the many subspecialities within Wright’s wheelhouse is Italian glass, and on May 23 Wright will sell a large private collection that includes Fulvio Bianconi’s “Con Macchie Vase,” with an estimate of $90,000 to $120,000.
Best bets: coins, sports memorabilia, comics, movie posters
With roots in coin auctions, Heritage has grown quite large: It raked in $438 million last year in online sales alone, and the firm now conducts live auctions in 10 locations across the globe and across many categories. But their bread and butter are items that the company president, Greg Rohan, calls “the kinds of things that everyone has,” like comic books, baseball cards and classic film posters. “People aren’t buying what we’re selling for decoration or for resale,” he added. “They’re buying things they absolutely love.”