There’s a moment in “Downton Abbey” in which the Earl of Grantham explains to his reluctant heir, Matthew Crawley, that he sees himself not as the owner of the estate but its steward.
That’s true of a lot of collectors, says Katie Banser-Whittle, regional director of Skinner Auctioneers & Appraisers and WAG’s What’s New columnist.
“A lot of collectors take on the feeling not of ownership but of guardianship,” she says. “I love that they’re passing that feeling along to someone else when they auction off some of their treasures.”
We’re talking in Skinner’s new Westchester County office — in the heart of White Plains’ Financial District, 50 Main St. — which opened in May. It’s a space that is at once corporate and comfortable with an impressive kitchen and lounge as well as offices and conference rooms, all in sleek earth tones with an occasional pop of red. And that’s by design as if to say this is a professional space, but not an intimidating one.
That can be the case with some other auction houses, says Katie, who worked for Christie’s in Manhattan in its now defunct musical instruments department and in its private and iconic collections department as well. “But though we offer high-end auctions,” she adds, pointing to a John Singer Sargent watercolor that recently sold for $183,000, “we also consider things in all price points that people don’t have an outlet for.”
As we talk, the eye wanders to reproductions of items that Skinner has sold, including one of Andy Warhol’s Elizabeth Taylor icons. But there’s also a violin, a lamp and a trunk. Such items are either waiting for a specialist to appraise them or on their way to Skinner’s Boston and Marlborough, Massachusetts’ auction sites, via the company’s own transport. (As WAG noted in its March announcement of Skinner’s Westchester move, the company — founded in the 1960s in Bolton, Massachusetts, by Robert “Bob” Skinner, an engineer turned antiques connoisseur and dealer — also maintains a presence in Manhattan and Coral Gables, Florida.)
The new regional office gives Skinner the flexibility to respond to a shift in the auction world.
“The markets changed so much,” Katie says. “People used to be happy to inherit anything. …Now they’re not taking every piece of silver from Aunt Betty.”
Instead, millennials in particular are living streamlined lives in which they may buy a piece and then build on it slowly.
So what’s Aunt Betty to do? Well, she can contact a place like Skinner to have her items appraised either in-office or at home. Who will buy her treasures in a world that’s seen a sea change to streamlining in collecting and interior design?
“There are people who are collecting unique items. They’re hoping to get that offbeat item they’ve been looking for, for a long time.”
It may be a piece of jewelry, always a hot category, or a rare bottle of bourbon or whiskey — spirits are trending right now, Katie says — or a piece of Americana, a Skinner staple.
“People don’t think of themselves as collectors,” she adds. But one thing she has learned from watching her 5-year-old arrange the rocks he finds is that they are. They just might not know it.
For more, call 212-787-1114 or visit skinnerinc.com.