Oddly enough, despite the economic challenges that face much of the population, many auction businesses have benefited from bored collectors sitting in front of their computers for half the day. Prices for art, jewelry, antiques, coins and other collectibles are as strong as ever.
Many of my colleagues have all but abandoned live auctions in lieu of online auctions, at least for the time being, some vowing never to return to hosting a live audience once COVID-19 is dealt with sufficiently. Whether or not the public demand for the in-person experience of an auction survives the pandemic remains to be seen. Had the lockdowns lasted only a month or two, perhaps it would have. But it seems as though there’s already a “new normal” emerging.
A year ago, most of us probably had never heard of a Zoom meeting. In December 2019, Zoom hosted 10 million users a day. By April 2020, that number had reached 300 million. Even small churches have ramped up digitally and are webcasting online Sunday services to cope with — in some cases — strict state or local lockdown regulations.
At Blackwell, we’ve been reluctant to host any in-person, public auctions, despite Florida’s comparatively relaxed lockdown rules. It’s one thing to walk through a grocery store with a wiped-down shopping cart or to sit at a restaurant for a meal. It’s entirely another to sit in a room — even “socially distanced” appropriately — for several hours at a time. As much as we miss our regular attendees, we feel that it’s important to ensure that our facility isn’t a vector for viral transmission. (And our multiple online venues allow anyone, from local to international buyers, to bid on our items safely and easily from their computer or mobile device.)
Even if the COVID vaccines outperform expectations, I don’t believe we’ll see anything like a return to a pre-pandemic culture. It’s become too easy to recoil from a sneeze, to bump elbows in lieu of a handshake, to pick up an extra package of toilet paper. If the news hints at the emergence of a new bug, however statistically innocuous, we’ll likely reach for our masks and stop meeting in person again for a while.
Still, I’m so ready for 2021.