The end of 2017 brought more than a flurry of interesting news.
- The biggest surprise was that Fairfield, Maine’s James D. Julia has been acquired by Morphy Auctions. Jim Julia, who took over his father’s small auction house, built it into a multimillion-dollar business with a combination of savvy dealing and showmanship. In the 1980s Julia restructured the firm to be more like a conventional business, rather than a sole proprietorship, creating divisions and a corporate structure. That move allowed him to grow the business, acquire capital, and have resale value.
Over the years, the auction house sold some serious stuff but always in an entertaining fashion. If there was a break in the action, Julia would haul out some Maine humor—telling the audience a well-worn joke in a thick accent that elicited both groans and laughs. There will be only two more sales at Julia’s facility in Fairfield before it’s put up for sale. (He’s not hanging the gavel up for good; he’ll still call the decoy sales at Guyette & Deeter.)
Julia said that shortly after signing the deal with Morphy he landed an important Winchester collection, and many of the specialists from the Julia firm will transfer to Morphy, who, like Julia, also launched a successful auction business from practically nothing.
- The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office has formed an Antiquities Trafficking Unit, and it’s aggressive. There were numerous news reports that the offices and home of hedge fund billionaire Michael H. Steinhardt were raided, and antiquities seized. According to the D.A.’s office, when a matter is brought to the attention of the new unit, a team is assigned to collect information about the origin of the item in question, potential criminality with respect to its possession, and the trafficking network associated with the movement of the artifact. The unit works with law enforcement and foreign governments to gather the evidence needed to seize the item, prosecute criminal offenders, and return the artifact to the rightful owner. We expect the unit will be making more news in the coming months. Collectors and dealers, most of whom buy antiquities without knowledge of an illicit past, should tread carefully. There can be big money at stake, and the D.A. appears to be taking this issue seriously.
- Lita Solis-Cohen has a fascinating story about a John Bartlam teapot recently found in the U.K. and slated to be sold.It’s a real find in American ceramics. Please note the consignor: an English buyer with a penchant for purchasing “mystery” or problem pieces. His curiosity—and £15—have led to a discovery, and most likely a pretty good payday. Hits are still out there.
Originally published in the February 2018 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2018 Maine Antique Digest