New to Louisville, Howard & Thomas Auction House is auctioning off part of the living estate of longtime real estate developer Walter Wagner Jr.
Wagner, who is downsizing and decided to liquidate part of his belongings, started his business in 1959 and worked with countless high-profile clients over the years, from KFC to the Rouse Company, the developer who brought Mall St. Matthews (originally “The Mall”) to the city in 1962.
Howard & Thomas, which was established recently in a space in Paristown Pointe, is working with Wagner to present their first auction, and it will be entirely online. (A live preview of the items, however, will be open to the public Saturday, June 22, from 3-6 p.m.)
Founders Peter Ashby “P.A.” Howard and Barry Thomas come from auction backgrounds and are knowledgeable and passionate about antiques; Howard worked for Sotheby’s in New York for several years, while Thomas was a senior content editor for Cincinnati-based Everything But the House (EBTH).
Last year, however, EBTH closed its Louisville operations and laid off all the employees, leaving Thomas wondering what he would do next. Howard was an acquaintance, and through a coincidental meeting with Howard’s wife in Cincinnati, the two got together and began putting the pieces together to open Howard & Thomas.
“You need to call Barry,” is what Howard says his wife told him after the meeting.
The plan is to create what the two partners believe is missing from Louisville: a high-end auction company focused on online auctions. Along with principal auctioneer Phillip Ammon, they already have filled a 2,500-square-foot space with Wagner’s items, a few additional items for the current auction and items for an estate auction in September.
An overview of what will be previewed and up for auction through June 26 includes plenty of silver, furniture art, glassware, rugs and a Bittner dining table with 10 chairs. The table, including the three leaves, is 132 inches long by 48 inches wide. Another highlight is a huge, 19th-century rococo mirror with an expected top-end value of about $3,500.
Among the art is an 18th-century Charles Baker painting that is expected to sell for up to $1,200. Among the silver is a roast server with a dome lid and warmer.
While a live auction is an exciting experience, Thomas says, an online auction maximizes the sale and liquidation aspect of the estate or collection.
“It opens you up to such a big market,” he says.
Howard adds, “Louisville just does not have anything like this.”
The partners plan to approach the business as problem-solvers for their clients — “When people need to sell off an estate, that’s a problem,” Howard says — while focusing on being curators of high-end estates as much as auctioneers.
As Howard & Thomas grows, the founders say public previews will become social events, with cash bars and possibly even entertainment. Their space will be built out for optimal display, so it will almost feel like shopping — but with the actual sale happening online in the days following.
In addition, they plan to curate themed auctions that will take place seasonally, be it an art auction, jewelry or a specific person’s collection. When it’s all said and done, they’re working toward getting their clients the best market value for their estates while also doing what they love — working with antiques.
“It’s great for us because it’s stuff we really like doing,” Howard says.
The items will be on display at 947 E. Breckenridge, in a rear part of the old Swan Street Antique Mall. Below are some examples.