Collectors in Asia have a thirst for rare Scotch whisky, says Chris Carter.
It’s been another good year overall for collectables, or “objects of desire” as Knight Frank rather theatrically terms them. The estate agency’s Luxury Investment Index (KFLII) rose by 9% in 2018, and by 161% over the last ten years. Broken down by type of collectable, coins did well over the last 12 months, rising by 12%; wine and art were both up by 9%; and watches added 5% to their overall value. Classic cars gained just 2%, which is perhaps a sign that the market is cooling off, given its strong performance over the past decade, having risen by 258%. Still, most car marques continued to rise in value.
The biggest faller, however, was Porsche, which lost 6.5% in 2018, as measured by the Hagi Index of 50 models from 19 marques. Among the other categories of collectables tracked in Knight Frank’s The Wealth Report, furniture, coloured diamonds and stamps either rose slightly or were flat. Jewellery fell by 5%, despite a diamond and pearl pendant that belonged to Marie Antoinette selling for 36.4m Swiss francs (£28m) in Geneva last November.
At the other end of the spectrum, the biggest riser in 2018 by far was rare Scotch whisky. Considering that the Knight Frank Rare Whisky 100 Index, compiled by consultancy Rare Whisky 101, puts whisky’s rise over the last ten years at 582%, it’s a little surprising that it’s taken until now for the annual report to include it. Then again, the rare whisky market never ceases to amaze. When a Dubai-airport retailer sold two bottles of rare 1926 Macallan whisky for $600,000 each last April, it made headlines. It wasn’t, after all, your typical carry-on duty free.
Then the stakes were raised again the following month. Two bottles of the same whisky breached the million-dollar mark – a first for any whisky – at Bonhams in Hong Kong. The bottles with different labels by artists Peter Blake and Valerio Adami had each been given estimates of around half that figure. Yet earlier this month in Edinburgh, Bonhams sold another Peter Blake 1926 Macallan (pictured, above) for a still impressive £615,063 ($808,721).
The point is that, as with any collectable, prices will always be volatile, and whisky is no different. Collectables are rare or unique – that’s what makes them collectable. But it also means sellers can be at the mercy of the whim of the market on any given day.
That high-water mark for a bottle of whisky set last year in Hong Kong – HK$8.6m ($1.1m) – also tells us something else: if you want to fetch the highest price for your whisky, head to Asia. Sales of Scotch whisky to India, China and Singapore rose by 44%, 35% and 24% in the first half of 2018, according to the Scotch Whisky Association.
Increasingly, that market is going straight to the source, notes The Wealth Report. Whisky tourism was apparently one of the main drivers behind the launch of a new non-stop flight from Edinburgh to Beijing last year.
A set of six letters written by Princess Diana was due to be sold yesterday as a single lot at Swann Auction Galleries in New York. The letters are addressed to Elizabeth Tilberis, who was then the editor of Vogue magazine. In one of the letters, dated March 1991, Diana writes that there would be no official photographs for her forthcoming 30th birthday party in July. “There is too much of a build up towards the 30th and ten years of marriage… to Prince Charles,” she complains. “I do feel terribly that there is far too much of this lady in the media!” On the actual day of her birthday, the press revealed that she had rebuffed Charles’s attempts to host a party for her, says the Antiques Trade Gazette. The letters are expected to fetch between $5,000 and $7,500.
An archive of letters and drawings from Harper Lee to a friend, Charles Weldon Carruth, was sold by Bonhams in New York last week. In one letter from 1993, Lee complains that her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, “was once a tiny town of considerable character but is now six times its size and populated by appalling people”. Her main gripe was the way in which the town was exploiting the fame of her novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, to drive tourism. “The hypocrites in charge… say they are doing this to ‘honour’ me,” she writes. “What they are doing is trying to drown me in their own bad taste, and are embarrassing me beyond endurance.” The single lot sold for $25,025, including buyer’s premium.
Tips for how to bid at auction
Auctions can be a great place to snap up bargains. But for the uninitiated, it’s easy to be intimidated. There’s no reason to be, Luke Macdonald, a director at Cheffins auction house in Cambridge, tells Victoria Brzezinski in The Times. “Many people imagine that auctions are full of oil paintings with enormous reserves and are solely the mainstay of serious collectors or dealers. This is definitely not the case.”
And if you’re worried about accidentally buying something, because you scratched your nose, that’s a myth. “As auctioneers we are looking for your bidding number and someone who is really bidding,” says Macdonald. Besides, attending an auction is a fun thing to do on a weekend, and the events themselves are broadening their appeal, says Benedict Winter, a Christie’s specialist.
Items often appear on auction house websites at least two weeks before a sale, allowing you to peruse lots, and Barnebys (barnebys.co.uk) is a useful online auction aggregator. Specialists are also on hand to answer questions.
“We often find ourselves caught up in the romance of picking an engagement ring or a present for a loved one,” says auctioneer Alexandra Whittaker of Fellows. “The specialists can even advise how to repair and remodel, if necessary, as they have seen it all before.” Lastly, decide on your budget before you start bidding, and don’t forget to factor in the buyers’ premium, which varies, and VAT.