Cowan’s Auctions specializes in the sale of fine art and antiques. We hold over 40 auctions per year, each built around one of our specialties: American Indian Art, Firearms and Militaria, American History, Paintings and Prints, Decorative Art, Jewelry, Modern Ceramics and Contemporary Art.
The business model is straightforward. Individuals, or representatives of institutions and estates, consign property to be sold at auction. As auctioneers, we work on behalf of our consignors, keeping a percentage of the sale (hammer) price as our commission. We charge buyers a commission as well.
The Company was founded in 1995, initially selling items related to American History – photographs, manuscripts, maps, significant objects and political ephemera.
We consistently added new categories, and we’ve disrupted the marketplace from the start. We were among earliest auction houses to create a website and one of the first to sell online. We raised the bar for regional houses with the quality and scholarship of our catalogs. And in 2014, Cowan’s, along with 5 of our competitors, launched bidsquare.com, on online bidding platform where auction houses are vetted to ensure honesty and quality.
We reach buyers nationally and around the globe, and take pride in our reputation for integrity, customer service and great results.
But the business starts with having great stuff to sell.
Auction companies compete to get the best property, and realize its highest value by marketing to the widest audience of potential buyers. It's our job to know who will be interested, and make it easy for them to buy.
Over the years, the notion of “making it easy” has changed. Once, all auctions were held in real-time. If you couldn’t be there, you told the auctioneer the highest price you were willing to pay; the auctioneer bid on your behalf.
Today, the most valuable lots at the better auction houses sell over the telephone. An auction representative calls the bidder just before the lot goes on the block. She relays the asking price; the bidder says “yes” or “no.” As the bids increase, she signals to the auctioneer whether the bidder wants to stay in the running.
And “making it easy” keeps changing. Bidders use computers and mobile devices to bid from anywhere in the world. They bid live, in real time. They bid in timed, “eBay style” auctions. They can choose from an ever-growing array of online business models and “storefront” formats. They search and stumble upon items from all over the world.
While many live auctions still draw a crowd, an auctioneer can easily sell millions of dollars of property with no one in the room. A 2016 report offers staggering evidence: the value of fine art and antiques sold online continues to climb. But buyers only say "yes" – never having seen or touched the item – if and only if they trust the auction company.
Another dramatic impact of the Internet is the aggregation of product. For all but the best and rarest of items, supply usually exceeds demand. Tastes and lifestyles keep changing too. Over the past decade, many categories of product have fallen dramatically out of vogue.
Within this competitive and dynamic space, Cowan’s has grown into a thriving auction house. We are a known and trusted brand.