Art market

Ewolfs is reported to have severe debts as numerous parties try to regain control

Minority owner sells stock, then buys it back to acquire company

Cleveland, Ohio

The fine art auctioneer ewolfs, once tipped as the most promising online auction site, has been bought by a minority owner after the firm suspended auctions following a bitter dispute with its founder and former CEO Michael Wolf.

The company, which for 25 years was a classic auction house, went entirely online in 1999. “We were nearly at break-even,” saiWId Michael Wolf to The Art Newspaper, “and we were achieving a 90% sell-through rate”; in its first online sale in 1999 it made $1.3 million and sold a Mexican painting for $400,000.

Mr Wolf resigned in September last year, citing differences with partners who were investors in the online venture. On 28 August Mr Wolf had won a notice evicting the firm from its headquarters, a warehouse belonging to him. Ewolfs is suing him for $280,000–allegedly misappropriated to renovate the building.

The company, reported to have severe debts, has suspended auctions, is thought to have laid off most of its staff and has left the premises. It was not answering the telephone at press time.

In early September the minority owner and books director William Chrisant, who was a creditor of the company, auctioned its intangibles and books and bought them himself, paying under $10,000 for the books, plus $1,000 for the company name, web side and customer list.

This means that he is now owner of the name and can relaunch the company. Mr Chrisant owned Cleveland Antiquarian bookstore, which was bought by ewolfs last year.

Mr Wolf now says of the investors brought in when the company went online: “I am greatly relieved to get away from these people,” noting that “we had problems with [Chrisant] from the beginning. It’s a sad ending to a long career,” he concludes.

In a further development, a group of investors has been attempting to gain control of both ewolfs and another Midwest auction house, Dargate of Pittsburgh. Dargate was auctioned off just two days after the Ewolf sale and the only interested parties were Mr Chrisant’s backers, so a merger of the two companies may be in the offing.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Ewolfs: going, going, gone'

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 118 October 2001