Reflecting on the auction market of 2013 highlighted just how whisky auctions are at a crossroads. The traditional auction houses have embraced technology to find innovative ways to keep customers engaged in the face of stiff competition from their online rivals. Undoubtedly, there are some who will find the presence of a recognisable company name in the auction world makes for a more reassuring place to bid. Sellers disposing of large collections can have greater success in negotiating discounts on their seller’s fees with some businesses more than others. Bidders may feel that a window of 30 seconds, rather than a week or two online, make it harder for others to push the price up. But is this enough for the thousands of people who buy whisky at auction every year? There are numerous online auction websites springing up each year and there is no doubt they add to our choice as consumers. Bids can be left 24 hours a day, email notifications encourage you to place higher bids if you fall behind and delivery charges can be conveniently added to your bill to facilitate direct shipping to your home address. However, some of the new websites have little or no information on the people running these enterprises. It makes you consider how secure their premises are and whether they are insured for your bottle when it’s in their custody before it’s sold. Such trustworthiness must be earned and it will be worth your while building a good relationship with an auction house that meets your needs, whether that’s online only or a ‘clicks and bricks’ company.
The WMI rule change streamlined the sales data used to calculate the WMI. Multiple mixed bottle lots (the drinker’s lots) were excluded and whisky from all countries was given entry. A live auction was eligible if it topped £1,000 or more than 50 bottles. During this year of flux, understandably, the number of bottles fell, values readjusted and average prices climbed. Bonhams two sales in Hong Kong underlined the enormous potential of the market in Asia. McTear’s were awarded the Whisky Magazine Auction house of the Year for the second time. It was the sheer quantity and quality of stock they managed to attract to their single site operation across the entire year which edged other operations out of consideration. They offered unsold lots through McTear’s Gallery 1842 but this was hardly required due to their ability to sell through an extraordinarily high percentage of lots on a consistent basis during 2013. This can only be an endorsement of how they were able to satisfy both vendors and buyers.
The number of WMI eligible bottles selling for more than £2,000 totalled 221, up 11.6% from 198 bottles last year. The combined cost of these bottles was more than £959,000. The Distillers’ Charity auction secured the top two positions but overall in this ultimate group; Bonhams handled 48.0%, McTear’s 28.5%, Mulberry Bank Auctions 10.0%, and Christies 6.8%. There were 106 bottles sold by
Bonhams in this £2,000 and upwards category; 65 were sold in Hong Kong, 27 in Edinburgh and 14 in New York. With 85 bottles, Glasgow remained the location that sold the greatest number of bottles selling for £2,000 or more. All three editions of Black Bowmore bottled in the 1990s have now broken through £3,000 a bottle at least once and the first edition has hit £4,000 on occasion. Ardbeg Lord of The Isles was selling for £260-£360 for most of 2012 before it started to accelerate and by the end of last year, you could expect to pay £500-£700 for a bottle. The Macallan Royal Marriage 1948/1961 continues to be variable reaching £2,200 but sometimes hundreds of pounds lower.
What should you be looking for this year? Expect to see more Japanese whisky selling at auction for great prices in UK salerooms, online and in Hong Kong. Karuizawa had broken into the top 30 by the end of the year, even though it had not been listed for a year. Contrast that with Yamazaki ranked 92nd, Hanyu 115th, Yoichi 178th, and Miyagikyo 182nd and you’ll see the significance of the current vogue for Karuizawa. There are significant gains being made by aged and limited editions bourbons and American whiskies. The number of bottles is small but their low initial cost and the growing resurgence of the category makes them an attractive proposition. Scotch is seeing smaller margins on limited editions than ever before. You can predict a flash sale of bottles following new limited edition releases, but with producers accounting for this in their pricing, you will need to make careful judgement to ensure you achieve a genuine long term growth in the value of your collection.
The Year That...
• The WMI underwent the largest rule change in its history, excluding multiple bottle lots and widening eligibility to new whisky categories.
• McTear’s Auctioneers, Glasgow were Auction House of the Year.
• The WMI started the year at 748.7 and ended the year at 739.7 (down 1.2%), peaking at 844.1 in August. • Nine separate auctions contributed bottles more than £100,000.
• The Distillers’ Charity Auction produced the auction of The Bowmore 1964 48 Years Old in October which became the most expensive whisky bottle auctioned in 2012 at £61,000.
• Bonhams, Hong Kong had the highest grossing sale of the year on 23rd May with their “Fine and Rare Wines, Cognac & Single Malt Whisky” sale, contributing nearly £238,000.
• For the third year running, more bottles of The Macallan were sold at auction than any other brand.
• Brora made the biggest gain up the rankings of the top 25 brands with an increase in the number of bottles coming to auction and considerable demand pushing prices high.