If you want your whisky auction business to thrive, cut your seller’s fees. That’s my conclusion from observing Scotch Whisky Auction’s bold experiment to run their 58th auction as a commission free deal for sellers. That’s right, the whole of the winning bid was yours to keep other than listing and reserve fees. The team at Scotch Whisky Auction were inundated with bottles, eventually offering an unprecedented 5,080 lots for sale. This is double the volume of transactions that they typically offer in any given month. Clearly, stumping up 10 per cent of your winnings had been putting a lot of people off.
How do other online auction houses compare? Whisky Auctioneer offer the lowest rates around charging only 5 per cent commission, with Just Whisky charging a 6 per cent flat rate on winning bids. Whisky.Auction and Whisky Online Auctions charge 10 per cent commission (as do Scotch Whisky Auctions in normal circumstances). In Germany, Whiskyauction.com work with a sliding scale of charges based on the winning bid that equates to 22 per cent on a €50 bid and 18 per cent on a €1,000 bid. Don’t forget, the bun fight of a vast auction can hinder competitive bidding if your bottle happens to be one of 60 identical lots vying for a buyer (Ardbeg Perpetuum, I’m looking at you).
Lindsay Burns & Co, in Perth was one of the auction houses that caught my eye last year. They delivered quality over quantity, with a focus on vintage stock dating from 1950 – 1970s. Following their earlier sale of retro Glenfiddich, the sale in December included a Talisker Pure Malt distilled 1964 for £700 and a Macallan 1956 80 proof for £1,250. Let’s hope they can continue to bring in high value stock of similar calibre this year.
The biggest influence on the WMI in December was Christie’s, New York with a grand offering of early 20th Century Overholt Rye Whiskey. Their London sale had more variety though: Glenfiddich Private Vintage 1955 (£6,200), Samaroli Bowmore Bouquet 1966 (£5,500), and Samaroli Laphroaig 1967 (£5,000). A Samaroli Tormore 1966 bottled in 1982 triumphed at £1,200, though the dark liquid inside this bottle has commanded up to €2405 / £1,800 online at Whiskyauction.com in February 2015. McTear’s sold a rare S.M.W.S. bottle 1.1 for £1,300, an 8 Years Old Glenfarclas from 1975 bottled in August 1983 in the founding days of the Society. That’s still a great price, but tellingly, last time out in August 2014 it fetched £1,800.
Spink and Bonhams in Hong Kong held two significant January sales in the run up to Chinese New Year. Spink held a sale of Whisky, Cognac, and other Spirits that included a cask of Dà Mhile Springbank 1992 that would be turning 24 Years Old. The fortunate buyer could look forward to approximately 280 bottles at 50 – 52 per cent though they would still need to pay for duty, bottling, label design, and transportation. Undaunted, it was sold for HK$560,000 / £50,000. Unusually, whilst the first 16 bottles of Scotch were unsold at Spink, bidders won three lots of Canadian whisky interspersed between them.
Two bottles of Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye made HK$1,000 / £90, then another pair came along and took HK$1,500 / £135, though I suspect the vendor may have been praying on the bible for a more significant sum. Bottle #1 of Glen Breton 1990, reputedly the first 25 Years Old single malt whisky ever produced in North America, looked a good prospect for collectors and took a deservedly high HK$11,000 / £980. Just as The Macallan in Lalique attracts collectors of the crystal, a one of 150 Hibiki 35 Years Old presented in a Nabeshima decorative ceramic helped secure a winning bid of HK$110,000 / £9,800 at Bonhams, Hong Kong. At their Old and Rare Whisky Sale, a top bid of HK4400,000 / £35,000 secured a bottle of Karuizawa 1960 50 Years Old, helping to sustain Karuizawa’s dominance at the top of the WMI.
Did You Know?
The undisputed star of McTear’s auction in January was a bottle of Mackenzie Brothers Dalmore 30 Years Old bottled by Duncan Macbeth & Co that sold for £3,400. In contrast, a modern bottle of The Dalmore 30 Years Old will cost you only £1,400. Brothers Andrew, Alexander, and Charles Mackenzie acquired Dalmore distillery in the 19th Century. In 1960, the Mackenzie Brothers Co. merged with Whyte and Mackay. To put the McTear’s bottle in context, three bottles of Mackenzie Brothers Dalmore 30 Years Old were sold at Bonhams, Edinburgh five summers ago and fetched £1,300 – £1,500 a piece. That McTear’s price is equivalent to an impressive growth of 20 per cent per annum over five years.