Bruneau & Co. seek to ‘de-mystify’ auction house process

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“We’re passionate about the past,” begins the slogan of Cranston-based Bruneau & Co. Auctioneers.

That statement sets the tone and culture for those who work at Bruneau and Co., and those who buy and sell with them.

Kevin Bruneau, founder, leads his staff with a youthful passion about doing work that often involves older, antique items that are often dusty, obscure, and carry hidden value.

While one might think that coming upon a rare, valuable item doesn’t happen all that often, at Bruneau, it does.

On Friday, Oct. 28, there will be a free preview party from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. to which members of the community are invited to see items that will be auctioned the next day. The Oct. 29 auctions are at 10:30 a.m. and noon.

Items often come in when staff members go out on what they call a “house call,” which is going over to a home or business in Rhode Island – or in some cases, getting on a plane or traveling on day trips – to see special items or collections that there is a “feeling about,” Bruneau said.

A gleeful “look at this,” followed by a well-researched description of what makes an item valuable, that shows the excitement and the passion behind the work happening at Bruneau & Co.’s building at 63 4th Ave., right off Elmwood Avenue.

The auction house is working on a schedule of bi-monthly that is soon to be monthly, with live auction events in their building that fills up daily.

“One’s stereotypical perception of an auction or an auction house is a mysterious process that most of us don’t understand or have much experience with,” Bruneau said. “As [most people] don’t have regular dealings with an auction house, [they] have little ‘trust factor’ built up for when [they] do need or want their services.”

Bruneau – who has been in the business since 1992, having owned several auction and consignment houses – was known as the antique powerhouse “bkcranston” on eBay. He successfully orchestrated weekly online sales offering only the finest selection of antiques and Asian arts. In 2011, he began his cross-country antiquing tour having been a co-star of the hit PBS series “Market Warriors.”

Travis Landry is the toy department director and specialist at Bruneau and Co. His specialties include post-1950 American and Japanese toys, comics, and decorative arts, and he is a favorite guest at comic conventions across the country. He was a cast member on the Travel Channel’s “Toy Hunter” and a producer for numerous Rhode Island PBS antique programs.

Ashle Tortolani is the operations manager and has worked alongside Bruneau in numerous antique ventures for over a decade. She oversees the entire operation in both the gallery and office.

“Our goal is to de-mystify the selling, buying, consigning, evaluating, and auction process by priding ourselves on being your friendlier auction house,” Bruneau said.

Bruneau & Co.’s services range from buying to selling. They assist in settling estates for individuals or realtors and estate attorneys. They provide informal estimates on items for those who want to sell, or want to just learn the possible value of an item they know will be worth something one day. Sometimes, that item won’t have the value someone thinks it does, and then cleaning out can be an easier process once one knows they don’t have a true treasure. People will bring their items for sale, on consignment, and may often begin that process by emailing a picture or even texting it, or posting it as a message on Facebook. Items are evaluated and contracts negotiated. Occasionally, Bruneau & Co. will buy the item outright for future sale.

On the selling side of things, live auctions take place right in the Bruneau & Co. facility, with theater-style seating that fills up rapidly. People who attend in person can buy a catalogue so they can follow the rapid pace of items that are presented. As one might imagine, people place their bids in rapid fire from one side of the room to the next.

Often, those buying are well known to the auctioneers, such as designers and collectors. The tone is quiet and serious. For all the fun of the process, this is where it’s all business. People often stay all afternoon, following the items that interest them. They help themselves to light refreshments and enjoy comfortable seating. Items are held up by staff and shown on a digital monitor.

While the pace is more easygoing that some would image from auction scenes in television or movies, it does move quickly, often with hundreds of items sold in a single afternoon.

Live auctions are broken up into two different events. One is held at 10:30 a.m. with limited lots – a lot being an item or a collection that relates to each other sold as one item. The full auction is held at noon. The events go throughout the afternoon, depending on the number of items to be sold.

“Auctioneering has changed greatly, due to the convenience and change in technology,” Bruneau said.

Throughout the live auction, numerous staff members will be on cell phones providing bidders, who can literally be anywhere in the world, with an update on the items they wish to bid on. Over the phone, they participate right along with those in the room.

In another area, there will be online monitors, taking bids over the computer from several online live auction programs. To bid live over the internet or phone, one must have previously registered.

Over the next several weeks, payments are settled, and items are picked up or shipped out. The showroom begins to clear out, yet an empty floor doesn’t last too long as the whole process begins again. A range of items – from a grand piano to a Bentley auto, to collections of toys, rugs, sculptures, fine art, and furniture – start to fill every nook and cranny.

In addition to their auction on Oct. 28, Bruneau & Co. will be at the toy and comic auction at Rhode Island Comic Con at the Rhode Island Convention Center on Nov. 13.

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