What to look out for in 2023: online bidding and auction trends

Let's look back at last year to see which new trends emerged that will tell us what to expect in the year ahead.

Laptop computer

What will 2023 bring to online bidding and auctions? (Photo credit: Mizkit, iStock)

Online bidders were busy all year

From Elmwood’s New Year Jewellery sale on January 1 to the New Year’s Eve Sale of Interesting Items at Aintree Antiques Auctions on December 31, the 2022 calendar was full from start to finish and we can expect another busy year of bidding and buying in 2023.

Here are some examples of high value lots sold to internet buyers on thesaleroom.com in 2022:

Annual results posted by the world’s largest auction houses showed the same trend among online buyers. For example, at Bonhams 91% of all lots sold came through the firm’s online channels and at Sotheby’s 91% of all auction bids were placed online.

The antiques trade got even greener

Buying and selling second-hand items encourages re-use and discourages the use of other resources to make unnecessary new things. The art and antiques trade already plays an important part in the circular economy, particularly through the sale of chattels and personal effects from house clearances and estates which also prevents such items ending up in landfill.

But there is more the trade can do. At a conference hosted by the saleroom’s parent company Auction technology Group, Emma Pickup of Essex auction house Sworders explained how her firm already measures its carbon footprint and the steps it is taking to reduce it. Last year it announced that for purchased lots to be delivered overseas it was offering buyers the option to request a sustainable shipping quote via its site so that items could be delivered by sea container rather than air freight.

Emma Pickup of Sworders

Emma Pickup of Sworders presents her firm's green credentials and activities at the Auction Technology Group conference held in March 2022.

Sea container shipments are 98.4% less carbon intensive than international shipments by air (per tonne/km according to Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy 2021).

Christie’s also announced it would trial moving works by sea rather than air with logistics firm Crozier and The Gallery Climate Coalition (GCC), a not-for-profit group of galleries, auction houses and advisers, announced a Sustainable Shipping Campaign championing sea over air and giving guidance on how it can be done.

Auction houses are investing to expand their business

Showing a high level of confidence and optimism in the future, auction houses went on an investment spree:

Buying other firms: Bonhams bought four auction houses – Skinner, Bruun Rasmussen, Cornette de Saint Cyr, Bukowskis;

Relocating to upgraded premises: Forum, Chiswick Auctions, Mullock’s, Featonbys, Chilcotts;

Opening new premises: Bishop & Miller, Laidlaw, Lay’s all invested in new premises and Dawsons held its first sale in its new venue. Richard Winterton opened a valuation unit in Burton.

This trend is continuing into 2023 with north-west of England auction house Adam Partridge already having announced the acquisition of Bainbridges in Ruislip and Auction Antiques in Devon.

Physical assets show their worth as digital assets take a tumble

The market for non-fungible tokens (NFTs) crashed as the cryptocurrency crisis worsened while tangible assets showed their inherent value.

And whatever the physical asset is and wherever it is, if it’s being sold at auction and it’s online, bidders will find it.

In August, for instance, an unframed oil painting catalogued in a sale in Norfolk as ‘a 19th Century oil on canvas depicting mother and child’ estimated at £50-80 was sold for 2000 times its high estimate when bidders detected in it the hand of an Italian Old Master. There was speculation it could be by Italian painter Jacopo Cavedone (1577-1660) as it sold for a £160,000 hammer price at TW Gaze sale.

A painting probably by an Italian Old Master

This painting sold for £160,000 at TW Gaze in August.

New collectables are doing well…

As we predicted this time last year, certain categories of new collectables are on the rise:

Movie props: Propstore of Rickmansworth achieved almost £7 million in hammer total when it held a three-day of film and entertainment memorabilia in November.

Pokemon: collectors feel the need to catch ‘em all as sales of Pokemon cards continued to enjoy high popularity at auction. In November Richard Winterton sold more than £200,000 of Pokemon cards and memorabilia in a dedicated sale.

A set of Pokemon cards

This complete Pokemon Ex Deoxys set sold for £10,500 at Richard Winterton in November

Designer sneakers (trainers): collectors of retro footwear came out in force to snap up all manner of shapes and sizes as sneakers at auction became more popular.

A retro pair of sneakers

This pair of Nike Jordan size 9s sold for £2,200 in a timed online sale held by Vernon Fox in January 2022.

…and some older collectables impressed, too

A record for a UK cigarette or trade card was achieved in November when a card depicting legendary Derby and England insight right Steve Bloomer sold for £25,900 at Loddon Auctions in Berkshire. The card’s rarity was due to the company that produced it – the St Petersburg Cigarette Company of Portsmouth – having brought out so few cards.

A cigarette card featuring footballer Steve Bloomer

This cigarette card featuring footballer Steve Bloomer sold for £25,900 at Loddon Auctions in November 2022.

There was also an auction record for Beswick pottery when a a white horse with a yellow mane sold for £11,300 at Potteries Auctions in November. This was a particularly rare colourway; a standard brown one might sell for £20-30.

A Beswick shire horse

This Beswick shire horse mare sold for £11,300 at Potteries Auctions.

Rolex back at number one

The most frequently searched-for word on the saleroom in 2022 was Rolex, bringing the Swiss watch brand back to the top of the charts, ahead of terms such as ‘clock’ and ‘Chinese’.

The market for vintage mechanical wristwatches remains buoyant both among collectors seeking out historical pieces and buyers who are finding new Rolexes hard to come by. Why put your name on a waiting list when could you bid for and buy a nearly-new watch today?

A Rolex watch

This 2021 Rolex Explorer Oyster Perpetual Superlative Chronometer wristwatch sold for £7700 at Ryedale in June.

Prices for under-represented groups surge

As museums rebalance their collections to be more inclusive and more representative of the population as a whole - as well as to show history from more than one viewpoint – prices for female artists are rising.

A painting by Cissie Kean

Nude and Jug by Elizabeth 'Cissie' Kean – £7600 at Mallams in December 2022, a new record for Kean at auction.

This change - long overdue, one might add – is prompting rediscoveries of works and artists previously overlooked and under-appreciated. This applies not just to female artists but also to other hitherto under-represented groups including people who were the subject of a work (such as the sitter in a portrait).

A painting by Jean Baptiste Bonjour

This work by Swiss artist Jean Baptiste Bonjour (1801-82) was estimated at £10,000-15,000 at Sloane Street Auctions in November. It was snapped up by an overseas buyer for £85,000. It had been previously sold at Sotheby's for £3105 in 1997.

Whatever you bid for in 2023, we wish you every success - with new lots appearing every day there will plenty to browse and enjoy.

Send feedback on this article