This paper focuses on the 19th century genesis of the American art and antiques auction to examine the origin of its defining characteristics, proposing that American art and antiques auctions were upmarket retail-oriented events. In this paper Alycen Mitchell discusses the marketing techniques used in the latter part of the 19th century by the pioneering traders who transformed New York into America’s art and antiques auction capital. These techniques came to shape the American image of the art and antiques auction and had lasting and powerful resonance. In the latter 20th century, Sotheby’s and Christie’s cultivated this image to their advantage in their rise to international pre-eminence.
Alycen Mitchell recently completed a PhD at Queen Mary, University of London. Her thesis charts Sotheby’s and Christie’s rise to international market pre-eminence following World War II. She originally worked in the antiques business and has a track record of writing about art and design. Her research (co-authored with Barbara Pezzini) on the relationship between George Romney's critical reputation and the art market was published in The Burlington Magazine (July 2015). She spoke at the Creating Market, Collecting Art Conference (July 2016) organised by Christie’s Education in London. Most recently she presented a paper entitled ‘The Weinberg Auction: A Dress Rehearsal for Sotheby’s Retail Debut’ at the Researching Art Market Practices from Past to Present and Tools for the Future Workshop (November 2019) at Accademia Nazionale di San Luca in Rome.