Art market

Phillips moves into Judaica sales in New York

A difficult market now centred on Israel and Amsterdam


Phillips, the United Kingdom’s third largest auction house whose core business centres on the UK, has moved into the Judaica market in New York. Its first sale of Hebraica and Judaica, comprising around 300 lots, takes place on 8 May.

The firm has been attracted into this small, rather specialist collecting field by the vacuum left by Sotheby’s and Christie’s, neither of which has held regular major sales there for some time.

Nowadays Sotheby’s concentrate their major efforts on sales in Tel Aviv and Amsterdam, while Christie’s is solely limited to Amsterdam. Sotheby’s, however, is planning to have a small Judaica sale in New York this summer and both auction houses still hold the occasional single owner collection or single subject sale, such as Christie’s sale of Hebrew books last December.

Another significant attraction for Phillips is the potential breadth of demand, given that at around three million, New York reputedly has the biggest Jewish population outside Israel. Collectors include private buyers, scholars of Hebrew, as well as institutions including Jewish libraries.

The current market climate for Judaica is said to be strong for unusual and good quality works. According to one expert, recent sales have been better than ever for such objects, although some medium quality works are proving a little more tricky, and the market is beset by fakes.

The move by Phillips is also part of an international expansion strategy.

Claudia Florian, who heads Phillips’s US operations, says that the rationale behind the creation of the Judaica department last autumn is because “Phillips has a good track record of establishing niche markets not currently being exploited”. It also brings the company a step nearer to the resumption of regular sales (terminated in the late 1980s) in New York. In 1995 it held five sales and around double are planned for this year.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Phillips sells Judaica in New York'