Selecting the correct order of lots in a whisky catalogue is essential to the smooth running of an auction. Auction houses desire to manage the tone perfectly to ensure maximum bidding occurs. This involves balancing expensive lot items throughout the sale and ensuring a regular rhythm from start to finish like a verse and chorus. Some longer catalogues will have a middle eight, which may be a run of miniatures, wines or other spirits (I’m noticing more vintage gins appearing). A glut of one brand or bottling can overwhelm buyers and kill the momentum. Think of the long runs of The Macallan or the deluge of Lagavulin and Caol Ila Syndicate bottlings that we’ve seen in the last year. If you are not in the market for them, the attention of the audience can wander and buyers may leave the sale before the end. The auctioneer is critical to setting the mood. They need to be professional, authoritative and decisive but at the same time, offer humour and persuasive charm. Too slow or a monotonous tone flattens the mood and an obvious run of passed lots can leave an auction stuck in a rut as confidence evaporates. A well balanced sale catalogue offers something for everyone and should command your attention from start to finish, allowing you to check off the lots as you prepare to bid on your quarry.
September was a buoyant month with full sales offered by McTear’s and Mulberry Bank Auctions though not everything found a new home. McTear’s offered a rich selection of hard to find bottles from the Lagavulin Jazz Festival 2011 (widely considered as the best in years, so no surprise it was knocked down for £500) to the Bruichladdich 40 Years Old (£1,100). This bottle has previously struggled to sell at auction, but the last few bottles have climbed substantially. Not everything had a good day; the first UK appearance for a set of Ardbeg Double Barrel failed to find a buyer, and the Dalmore 1926 50 Years Old ceramic decanter only reached £3,200, the lowest price for more than two years. The top Ardbeg of the day was a G&M Connoisseur’s Choice black label bottling distilled 1958 which fetched a handsome £2,000. Blends performed well; a spring cap Royal Household making £600 and the magnificent Grand Old Parr Elizabethan finding favour at £800. McTear’s sold several albums of vintage whisky labels which sold far in excess of their high estimate. Let’s hope they were not purchased by anyone with unscrupulous intentions. Tennant’s small selection included a bottle of The Macallan Anniversary Malt 1974 which clinched £700. In London, Christies slipped a couple of malts into a wine sale. Whoever purchased those bottles of Ardbeg 1965 for only £2,600 grabbed a bargain. Whyte’s of Dublin were proud to sell a parcel of Dunville’s Three Crowns in a full case, individual and half bottles. The six bottle case drew around £5,880. Mulberry Bank’s sale comprised chiefly of the rump of the substantial collection of The Macallan metered out throughout this year. More than 40 per cent of the WMI-eligible bottles sold were from The Macallan with more than a dozen topping £1,000, although there were still a good number which failed to sell. Former Diageo employees in Kilmarnock were cashing in their final bottles. Four bottles of Johnnie Walker Thank-you Hill Street sold for £280-300 apiece and the Johnnie Walker 50 Years Kilmarnock bottlings fetched £330-360. Like McTear’s, Mulberry Bank’s prized lot of the Glenfarclas & Hine Auld Alliance 1953 valued at £13,000-£15,000 was left unsold. By the time you are reading this, the auction year will be reaching its climax and we can expect some realignment of the WMI rankings. Last year’s major bottles will slip from the chart, particularly the final bottles of Glenfiddich Janet Sheed Roberts Reserve. With the appearance of Strathisla distillery in the top 25 rankings, we’ll have a clearer idea of the winners and losers in the next edition.
Donato Marcantonio Whisky World, 36 Cockburn Street, Edinburgh
What whisky have you bought to keep?
I have a very rare bottle of Rare Malts Brora 1972 58.7% in the shop.
What whisky will you sell or open soon?
We’re a miniature specialist, but I’m tempted to open a full bottle of Glenmorangie Nectar D’Or.