The Art of the Good Deal

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Petaluma has galleries galore, a museum whose building was endowed by Andrew Carnegie and a flourishing arts center. But the best art in town just might be discretely sandwiched between occasional dog shows and a Waldorf charter school.

Located in a voluminous warehouse at the premises of the Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds and Event Center is what the last scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark might look like if everything was uncrated. Thousands of dollars worth of valuable art, collectibles, and antiquities line the walls or are attractively arranged in the showroom. It’s a veritable museum in itself and it’s all for sale. Welcome to Skip Domingos Auctions, where items from the sensational to the sentimental are going, going, gone to the highest bidder.

“We’re reaching the collectors more,” says Caleb Newberry, who worked with the auction house’s namesake for 15 years before acquiring the business in Spring of 2015. Since then, Newberry has concentrated on integrating contemporary sales practices into a premise that’s existed since 500 B.C. Can’t make it to the auction in person? There’s an app for that, courtesy of Live Auctioneers, an online live auction network that currently boasts over 36 million items listed, including those from Skip Domingos, which can be bid on in real-time as the gavel swings in Petaluma.

Technology aside, Newberry emphasizes the human touch over the algorithmic when it comes to his auctions. They’re conducted live with a big screen, sound system, a veteran auctioneer and an eager crowd seated in folding chairs on the showroom floor.

“With us there’s a living person behind what’s going on,” says Newberry, who is something of a walking Wikipedia when it comes to assessing both the value and validity of an object. He’s honed his knowledge and — as importantly — his instincts, over the years and has cultivated a network of experts who sometimes help confirm the provenance of items.

“It’s an ongoing process,” says Newberry, who, back in the days with Domingos, “...was the guy that went out to the houses and was digging in the crawl spaces and going up into the attics and was barely able to breath in some places – and digging out this one Van Erp lamp out that sold for $27,000.” Newberry credits programs like PBS’ Antiques Roadshow with amplifying awareness of the antiquities market and bringing in a new generation of collectors. Fortunately for him and his colleagues, Petaluma has long been an industry hotspot.

“Petaluma has always been known as an antique haven — downtown, all the shops, it’s always had what I call ‘sophisticated country,’” he says with a smile. “We have something for everybody. If you’re a construction guy and you’re looking for a new power tool, I’ll have one here eventually. If you’re looking for a vehicle this is a great place to get one. If you’re a jewelry collector interested in vintage, antique jewelry that you just can’t find nowadays, we have it.” And art? Last fall, he had a Picasso on hand as well as a numbered Rembrandt block print. Original Erté, anyone? Newberry had one of those recently, too.

“People buy these items as an investment,” says Newberry, whose clients include the very wealthy as well as those of more modest means. People are also looking to connect meaningfully with their purchases. Newberry often hears stories from collectors who are pursuing items for personal, nostalgic reasons.

“You can really sense in their eyes the connection they have,” he says, adding that the consignors themselves appreciate knowing that their items have a value beyond their sale price.

“That’s another sense of gratification for me—I get to see people that really have that desire and want to connect with those items,” says Newberry.

For more information, visit www.skipdauctions.com. Daedalus Howell blogs and podcasts his “Night School of the Mind” at www.daedalushowell.com

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