New York’s Heritage Auctioneer
By : | June 17, 2016

Nicholas Dawes, longtime Antiques Roadshow personality and renowned expert in Lalique, art glass and decorative arts, joined Heritage Auctions in 2009. The New York-based auctioneer and expert began his career in his native England in the late 1960s and now pursues a career as an auctioneer, appraiser, author, lecturer and antiques dealer. Dawes has worked as an auctioneer at Phillips and at Sotheby’s in New York, and has organised his own auctions at several prominent auction houses including Doyle and Rago. He has held an annual exhibition and sale of Lalique glass hood ornaments at the Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance since 1993, and is considered this country’s leading authority on the work of Rene Lalique.

Dawes in a conversation with Sanjana Chauhan of LuxuryNext, talks about his experience at Heritage Auctions, the most significant pieces he has ever sold in an auction and his love for Lalique.

Can you tell us a bit about the Heritage Auctions? What is your role in the auction house? 

Heritage Auctions was founded in the 1970s as a small coin auctioneer, and has grown to become the world’s third largest auctioneer and the largest founded in the United States, with offices in Dallas, Houston, Beverly Hills, San Francisco, Chicago, Palm Beach and New York, as well as Europe and Hong Kong.  As Vice President of Special Collections, I deal with a wide variety of questions and potential consignments, and never really know what is coming next.

What sort of collectibles are in demand in the auction market?

We find coins are a staple, but have also seen huge growth in sports collectibles, particularly cards, besides comic books, original comic and illustration art.  All of these categories are largely ignored by the larger auctioneers and Heritage leads the segment here.  There is also a growing demand for American fine art, Lalique glass and contemporary prints, besides photography.

What’s your experience been like with Heritage Auction Galleries? What have you learned about the auction market?

I have been associated with the world of auctions, professionally since 1980, but continue to learn every day. Heritage Auctions has taught me a good deal about areas (like the world of coin collectors) I would have very little exposure to, prior to joining the company six years ago. I have also learned about modern technology used in contemporary auction houses, which did not exist when I began my career.  Heritage is outstanding as far as technological advances are concerned, particularly in the realm of internet bidding.


Antiques Roadshow PBS
Nicholas Dawes at Antiques Roadshow


Which is that most stunning piece that you have auctioned, or the most significant?

Among the stunning pieces we have auctioned is a Lalique Amethyst Tinted Glass ‘Victoire’ Mascot, circa 1928. I became intrigued by René Lalique over 35 years ago, and have devoted much of my career as an auctioneer, dealer and author to his work. The incredible automobile hood ornaments he designed in the 1920s provide a special draw. The amethyst, tinted glass Victoire mascot realized $21,250 at a November 2012 auction. I purchased my first “Victoire” in 1983, and since then I have owned several. The finest I ever owned came from an old collection I bought in 1987 when my son was 1. Twenty years later, the mascot helped pay for his tuition at Duke University. Then there was a 1928 Ahrens-Fox N-S-4 Fully Equipped Fire Truck which sold for $125,000 at a May 2014 Heritage auction. At roughly 24 feet, this is undoubtedly the largest item I have sold at an auction and to me one of the most enjoyable to work with. There is something majestic in any fire engine, and this 1928 model, lovingly restored to its authentic original state by mechanical model enthusiast Glenn Reid and his team in Michigan, infused that majesty with elegance, power and a uniquely honest brand of Americana generically referred to as “Norman Rockwell.” Sitting in the driver’s seat, you can feel the spirit of the machine, the men who manned it, and the souls they saved. How many auction lots give you that?

What is the essential ingredient in determining value of an art object?

Tricky one, but basically, value is determined by supply and demand.  Surprisingly monetary value is not always tied directly to quality.

Who are the target consumers of these auctions? Have you seen the bidders’ profile change?

The largest buyers at Heritage are collectors, including those putting together corporate collections, besides dealers, museums and just people who want something to decorate their home or office with.  Today, there is far more international bidding than a decade ago, and a lot more bidding from buyers who enjoy ‘playing’ the market by buying and selling regularly.

You are considered to be an expert in Lalique. What fascinates you about the brand and what are the unknown aspects of Lalique that you have discovered?

I think Rene Lalique (1860-1945) was a genius as a designer, and the legacy he bequeathed in segments like jewelry, glass and other objects confirms that.  No one can compare to his eye for detail, from any period in history, in my opinion.  I learn new things about Lalique regularly and recently read two fascinating new books, one about his daughter Suzanne and another which carried letters written by Rene Lalique to various people.  I learned many new things, including about his time in England, and his abilities as a commercial dealer.

You are also the former Department Head and auctioneer at Phillips and at Sotheby’s in New York. What has your experience across all these auction houses been? How has the auction market evolved?

I have had the good luck to work at three major auction houses, and consult at others, and have gained unique insight into how this business works from within.  The first thing I sold in an auction as a boy in London was an 18th century painting, which sold in guineas!  The business has grown to incredible level of annual turnover, and the internet has had a dramatic impact. The biggest single change has been the introduction of private clients as buyers and sellers, which began about 35 years ago.  Prior to that, auction houses were largely the domain of the trade, and not entirely respectable places to buy or sell.  Today, the business is all very glamorous!

What is the advice you will give to a new collector?

Get involved.  Learn as much as you can and don’t be afraid to buy.  Get a good dealer or auctioneer to advise you.  You need them more than they need you!

How big is the luxury auction market?

If you define this as the market for luxury accessories such as handbags, I believe it is less than $50 million annually at all auctions internationally. It is a lot of money but not in the auction business, where one painting may sell for twice this amount.