Introduction to the Collection Series: Auction Catalogs

The auction catalog collection at the Rakow Library is an important source of information on glass objects and works of glass art. Auction catalogs provide provenance information about objects as well as detailed illustrations and descriptive characteristics such as dimensions, artist, and year of creation which can be used to identify glass objects. When looked at as a group, auction catalogs can also help track trends and taste of a particular time period or collector.

Christie’s Auction Catalog (New York) June 7, 2001

Christie’s (New York) June 7, 2001

Why is establishing provenance important for museums and other art collectors? The provenance history of an object works as the object’s “genealogy”; it provides a record of names, dates of ownership, means of transference, and locations where the object was kept. These records are very important when evaluating an object’s authenticity, establishing its value, or determining an object’s legal owner.

Early’s Auction Co. auction catalog (Ohio) April 1-2, 2011

Early’s Auction Co. (Ohio) April 1-2, 2011

Bonhams auction catalog (London) November 12, 2002

Bonhams (London) November 12, 2002

The Rakow Library regularly receives more than 50 current auction catalogs a month published by auction houses located all over the world. These range from small, specialized glass auction companies like Glass Works Auctions, to larger, well known auction houses such as Christie’s and Sotheby’s. The Library maintains auction house subscriptions for sale categories where glass objects and art are usually found—these include decorative arts, modern art, antiquities, general antiques, and Asian art. However, there is more to the auction catalog collection than just current sales. A significant number of auction catalogs from the 19th and early 20th century can also be found in the collection showing historical sales.

Skinner auction catalog from 1786 featuring the famous Portland Vase

Skinner auction catalog from 1786 featuring the famous Portland Vase

The Rakow Library also provides onsite access to several online auction databases which are great tools for provenance and valuation research at the library. Artfact, AskArt, and Artnet can all be used on their own or with the library’s print auction catalog collection in order to help find sale dates, auction house names, price information, and other useful information about glass objects.

Fun Fact: The Auction Catalog collection is the heaviest group of materials at the Rakow Library, weighing an average of 145 pounds per shelf. By comparison, an average shelf of books weighs about 72 pounds.


This is the eighth installment of the Rakow Research Library’s Introduction to the Collection Series.
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