Guernsey Guitar Auction Hits a Bum Note

Posted on April 8, 2014

What if they held a million-dollar acoustic-guitar auction and nobody came?

Well, at least not as many people as the auctioneers had hoped for, anyway. That’s what happened last week at Guernsey auction house’s “The Artistry of the Guitar” sale, in which more than 260 instruments  from the collection of businessman/acoustic-guitar collector Hank Risan, were up for grabs April 2 and 3 at the Bohemian National Hall in New York City.

Even before the auction, eyebrows were raised about some of the suggested starting bids—dozens were listed at more than $100,000; a 1930 Martin OM-45 Deluxe was estimated to bring in at least $875,000.

But the bidding wars were not to be. Fewer than half the instruments on auction were sold, according to the New York Observer, and the guitars that were bid upon went for far less than the auction house had originally estimated.

Many vintage guitars went for as little as between 5 and 10 percent of their originally estimated price. Such examples include a 1935 Martin C-2 estimated at $30,000 that went for $3,000; a 1915 Gibson L-4 estimated at $50,000 that realized $3,500; and a 1936 Epiphone Emperor listed at a low of $40,000 that was sold for $5,000.

One notable exception was a circa-1936 Washburn Style 5257 Solo Large Auditorium acoustic which was estimated at a high of $4,000--and went for a whopping $22,000.

The rare 1930 Martin OM-45 Deluxe turned into something of a bargain at $300,000—and the winning bid was by none other than folks from the Martin Guitar company itself. That particular model dates from just after the 1929 stock market crash, when the quality of Martin guitars was at a peak, but demand was at a Depression-era low. Fewer than fifteen of the OM-45 Deluxe models were made that year, and less than ten are known to still exist today.

The guitar will make its new home at the Martin Guitar Museum in Nazareth, Pennsylvania.

See an OM-45 Deluxe in action in the above clip featuring French guitarist Michel Waligora.

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