A new deal for instruments

J & A Beare is one of the longest-standing established dealers and connoisseurs in the fine stringed instrument industry. In 2014, they founded the online auction house, Beares Auctions in response to the ever-changing market. Managing director Simon Morris takes IAM behind the scenes and explains the changing role of the instrument dealer in the 21st century.

In the past fifteen years, even something as esoteric as the elite violin trade has come under the influence of modern times, necessitating creativity and reinvention in order to maintain a competitive edge and to serve the expanding market for high quality, rare instruments. Since 2014, we have addressed this need by branching out into online auctions.

Many of the big auction houses, like Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Bonhams, have gradually abandoned their violin departments. This has created a gap in the market that new start-ups, and older companies like ourselves, can help fill.

Auctions have always stood at the core of the market – serving as indicators that constantly measure its temperature, test pricing and stimulate public interest. They can also add a touch of glamour to the business by occasionally bringing record prices for some high profile pieces, usually when their initial price is within the market’s grasp. Beare’s are no strangers to auctions, having monitored and bought at auctions for decades – but now we are involved from the other side as well, running our own online auctions.

In creating Beares Auctions, and most recently our ‘Moto Perpetuo’ platform, we have devised a most contemporary auction with a huge potential for further development. Our continuous selection of fine instruments and bows come up for competitive sale as soon as they are consigned to us, with independent bidding periods and often an initial ‘Buy Now’ option, giving our buyers access to new stock around-the-clock. This is particularly suitable for dealers and investors, who want a quicker turnaround or more interesting pricing, yet it still offers as many of the shop’s services as possible for the musicians. While some instruments are suited for successful auction sales for both buyer and seller, not all are, and neither do all owners or buyers see an auction as a viable way to sell or buy. This is where Beare’s right hand can help its left, so to speak.

We wish to give a facelift to a business that has been operating under a veil of mystique and secrecy, historically leading to unnecessary controversies amongst its various competing entities. We also want to do away with the ‘buyer beware’ aspect often associated with auctions: the small number of select items offered at various times means that we are able to customise the presentation of each lot.

We provide many quick references to help buyers make informed decisions; for example, for lots that require it, we provide a brief dendrochronological synopsis by a world-respected expert in the field. Dendrochronology has been found to be effective in the authentication process, indicating a probable construction date for tables of instruments, as well as showing provenance of the wood used by the makers.

Once items are sold, we protect the privacy of the buyer and seller by not advertising the achieved prices unless authorised to do so by the previous and new owners. It is easier for a small auction house to offer this kind of service, rather than one loaded with dozens, if not hundreds, of lots of varying qualities and price levels.

Simon Morris is managing director at instrument dealer J & A Beare. Established in 1892 in London, the company now offers an online auction service in addition to its traditional shop.