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High-Power Auctions, Mexico City Style

by Gina Cardenas

This is clearly not a shopping mall experience. The vestibule walls are painted the color of newly minted dollars. Chairs, lined in neat rows, are filled with well-dressed business men and women. The auction house floor almost quivers with tension and excitement as bidders await the coming lots, itching for a gentlemanly fight...
Acceptance of the traditional auction house into Mexican culture has been a challenging process, but Louis C. Morton has managed to gain the confidence of buyers and sellers with his gravel and professional practices. Morton, who opened the first complete auction house in Mexico in 1988, Casa de Subastas Louis C. Morton, has turned auctioneering into a successful business. But the obstacles he faces continue to face take a cultural twist.
Mexico does not having a history of auction houses like many Anglo-Saxon cultures do. In Europe and the United States one will find thousands of auction houses scattered among large and small cities. As Morton notes, "Even in the tiniest village you can find the baker, the blacksmith and the auctioneer." Not so in this country, where informal auctions are scarce and catalog auctions like those of Christies and Sothebys fame are almost nonexistent.
"In Mexico we have the grace, or disgrace-- disgrace for us auctioneers and grace for the nation-- that family still exists," comments Morton. "When a family member dies, their things are divided among the children who live nearby. In the United States, where families tend to be more scattered across the nation, the surviving members often solve the arduous process of deciding what to do with all the things left behind by auctioning the entire estate."
Mortons activities therefore range from organizing auctions to acting as an informal teacher of sorts. He wants to demystify the glamour associated with auction houses.
"When many people think about professional auctions, they think New York-- that the prices will range from upwards of two million dollars. This misconception makes some people uneasy about attending auctions or taking items for consignment." Others believe they will make a quick fortune by auctioning family heirlooms. Morton notes that his auction house has received items which are similar to pieces found in the Mexico City Chapultepec Castle museum. "Unfortunately, it is not a museum that houses pieces of very good quality or value. The reality is that pieces are only worth what the market is willing to pay for them."
Morton targets the average public as the best customers for his auctions. He travels to England frequently in search of decorative pieces and European antiques-- popular items with residents of Mexicos capital city. Starting in 1988 with antiques, Casa de Subastas Louis C. Morton have through the years added modern art, books, wine and Mexican cowboy paraphernalia auctions to their list of regularly scheduled events. They also hold general "Attic" auctions, which feature second-hand items such as furniture, pottery, silver, glass and porcelain.
While others in Mexico have made attempts in the auction business, none have taken a year-round approach as Morton does. Dimart, who auctioned modern art in the 1980s, is one example. Other auctions are held for special events or charities, but most are not regularly scheduled events. Morton has representatives in Monterrey, Guadalajara and Mexico City where pieces can be left on consignment. Their main offices are located on Monte Athos #179 in Lomas de Chapultepec, District Federal, in the state of Mexico. For a schedule of coming events and their locations call (5) 520-5005.
Morton stresses that the auction business is a service. Much planning, organizing and research takes place before the final event. He adds that people who wish to place items up for auction need to understand that it takes about three months before the piece is actually offered to the highest bidder.