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Going once, going twice, into St. John’s auction culture

A collector makes a bid at the Winter Estate auction Sunday afternoon in St. John's. The auction, held by Bartlett Auction House... NOT COMPLETE  - Andrew Waterman/The Telegram.
Seasoned collectors and newbies alike rubbed shoulders Sunday at the St. John’s Community Market building for the latest public auction hosted by Bartlett Auction House. Up for grabs was an eclectic mix of pieces of art, old tools, antiques and collections from four estates. Andrew Waterman/The Telegram

Art, an ancient walrus tusk, old medical instruments and more available to the highest bidder

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

Throughout the St. John’s Community Market building on Sunday morning, chairs were being put in place facing a stage, mikes were, for a moment, slightly feeding back, before the levels being adjusted. "Test one, two, two, two, test," a sound engineer said.

Across about 10 tables were old, curious objects, like antique rolls for the player piano with song titles like "My Laddie," "The Sunshine in Your Big Blue Eyes" and "Hot Lips." A copper bed warmer, an ancient walrus tusk and a dream catcher made out of moose antlers with a small face positioned in the middle of its webbed pattern, made by David Brooks, were displayed amongst hundreds of other things.

Wayne Bartlett of Bartlett Auction House was auctioneer that day. He says, while there is interest, Newfoundland and Labrador is not as much of an auction culture as some other places.


Approximately 60 bidders were at the St. John’s Community Market, looking at an assortment of things up for auction.
Approximately 60 bidders were at the St. John’s Community Market, looking at an assortment of things up for auction.


“Where I went to auction school back in 1993 (in) a little town called Mason City, Iowa, a town the size of Deer Lake, you had 150 working auctioneers in that little town,” Bartlett said.

“They go to auctions like you and I might go to a restaurant or movie.”

He’s one of only five or six auctioneers in the province, he says, and was setting out the collections from four estates, preparing the room before the bidding started.

“It’s quite an eclectic mix,” Bartlett said. “We’ve got tools, we’ve got antiques, we’ve got almost all original art.”


Ian Bruneau has been an art collector for nearly 40 years. He was particularly interested in these old hooked rugs.
Ian Bruneau has been an art collector for nearly 40 years. He was particularly interested in these old hooked rugs.


The art of Christopher Pratt, Nathan Pinsent, Gerry Squires, David Blackwood and more, were hung, as well as those by unknown artists. Across the room, hooked rugs of all different designs were displayed, as a few keen collectors paced around early, eyeing what they might bid on and wondering how much they were willing to spend.

Ian Bruneau has been a collector for close to 40 years. Most of his interest was in the artwork and hooked rugs on display.

“You’re always hopeful that you’re going to get something if it’s something really good,” he says. “(There’s) disappointment when you know you’ve gotten to the point when you really shouldn’t go any further. And then the feeling afterwards of, sort of, either I made the right decision stopping or it haunts you.”

Bruneau is a big believer in doing the math beforehand and knowing your limit, because once the bidding starts, it’s possible to get caught up in the rush.

“You have to deny any kind of an emotional element to it, otherwise you can just run on,” he says. “I’ve seen it happen where two people will run way beyond where they should have gone for something but that’s hard to resist (in) the moment.”


Joanne Snook-Hann was mostly interested in the art during her first time at a live auction. - Andrew Waterman/The Telegram
Joanne Snook-Hann was mostly interested in the art during her first time at a live auction. - Andrew Waterman/The Telegram


It was Joanne Snook-Hann’s first time at a live auction. She says it’s the mystery of the objects that she enjoys.

“You don’t really know where it came from, or its history,” she said.

A portrait of a young woman by Jean-Emile Buland caught her attention and she was considering bidding on it that day.

“It looks really old to me and I don’t quite know a lot about the artist so it might be a little uncommon, possibly, a bit more rare,” she said. “If I’m lucky enough to get it I’ll take it home and try to do more research.”


A dream catcher made by David Brooks.
A dream catcher made by David Brooks.


Shortly after 1 p.m., a Japanese lamp is brought to the centre of the floor, in front of the stage. Bartlett makes sure the screens are displaying the information needed from the people who are bidding online, before his voice suddenly speeds up.

“We got $22 online, let’s go to $23,” Bartlett manages to get out in a matter of seconds, before pointing throughout the room at various bidders, and a steady stream of words, punctuated by numbers, continues.

Just before 4 p.m., about five hours after Snook-Hann spoke to the Telegram, lot number 323, portrait of a young woman by Jean-Emile Buland, was put up for auction, bid on and won by new collector Snook-Hann. She spent more than she wanted, she says, but is happy to have the engraving on paper, most likely done in the late 1800s by the artist, which the Bartlett Auction House webpage says was a winner of the esteemed scholarship, the Prix de Rome, in 1880.

Twitter: @AndrewLWaterman


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