Michael P. Grogan, who set up shop on Charles Street in December, is a celebrity in his own right. A nationally known fine art auctioneer and appraiser, he is often featured on WGBH’s Antiques Roadshow. Grogan & Company, the family-owned business he founded in 1987, is recognized and respected all over the world.
And that’s not all. Grogan is a great storyteller.
An auctioneer since the age of 20, his stories are filled with what he calls ‘Roadshow moments’ – those speechless moments when families first learn the values of antique family items they’ve long left alone in dark corners of their attics.
He knows the story each heirloom tells and can share its history, its uniqueness, its peculiarities and its flaws to its less knowledgeable owner.
He tells stories of the surprises that pop up in the auction and appraisal world, like that of a local couple who recently brought for his appraisal an elegant necklace. It had been in the family for years, abandoned in a top dresser drawer and never worn by its current owner. The couple’s ‘Roadside moment’ first came when they heard Grogan’s appraisal – the value at auction of the Art Deco platinum, jadeite, pearl, diamond and sapphire necklace would range between $8,000 and $12,000. Yet, on December 14, at the company’s first auction held at the new Beacon Hill gallery, Grogan kept the bidding going until it sold for $90,000.
Grogan will share stories like this and more at an Heirloom Discovery Evening, an event open to the public on February 5 at the Gallery. Guests, if they desire, may bring one item to be appraised – art, jewelry or antique. Grogan will entertain the crowd by telling the history behind these items and others. Chances are there will be many ‘Roadside moments.’
Following a charitable tradition started when Grogan first opened his business, the proceeds of this event will go to a charity. He chose the Beacon Hill Village, a non-profit organization for Boston residents age 50 and over that provides programs and services so members can lead vibrant, active and healthy lives while living in their own homes. “I want to be helpful to the Village,” said Grogan. “It is so essential to the lives of many Beacon Hillers.”
With a degree in Art History from Boston College, Grogan chose not to work at art museums but instead to pursue more commercial interests. He began his career in the art auction business in 1978 at Sotheby’s New York. After holding many positions there, he left Sotheby’s to establish Grogan & Company on Commonwealth Avenue in 1987 and ten years later moved it to Dedham.
After his daughter Lucy joined the business, the Grogan & Company team – which also includes his wife Nancy – returned to its Boston origins. “We look forward to being in close proximity to our core clientele,” he said. “If you drew a ten mile circle around where we are now, it would be the primary source of where we get our consignments.”
The move also provided an opportunity for Grogan to sell the larger items in his inventory so that he could focus instead on smaller ones like jewelry, paintings and silver. “The market for antique furniture is soft right now,” he explained. “People who bought them early on are now downsizing and selling them, while young people can find products once considered rare on eBay. The quality of new furniture is good and it is easy to find pieces on the Internet.”
The Internet has been a boon to Grogan’s auction business. Buyers can bid live online, on the phone or in-house at the four major auctions he holds each year. “We are selling items to all corners of the world and it has become more competitive.”
Throughout its almost thirty years in business, Grogan has featured items selling for record prices. Highlights include a William Morris Hunt painting of Gloucester Harbor which sold for $391,000, a rate Salor Ensi Carpet for $241,5000 and a fancy yellow diamond brooch that sold for $440,000.
In addition to successful general auctions, single owner sales are a specialty of the house. Another of Grogan’s favorite stories relates to the estate sale of a philanthropic Boston woman. He sold the contents of her estate at auction for $200,000. Afterwards, when removing old clothes stored in the attic in steamer trunks, Grogan came upon something wrapped in a piece of paper. Opening it, he found a Paul Revere print depicting the Boston Massacre. He sold it for $200,000. That single item brought in the same amount as the contents of the rest of her home.
“I like auctions because it is the culmination of my relationship with the sellers,” he explained. “I go to their house, I price their item, I take it to my gallery. The final step in our relationship is for me to sell it for them.”
A modest person, Grogan said he is not an extrovert. “I find auctioning fun,” he said. “It is easy to keep focus. But I don’t think I could be an actor.” His daughter thinks otherwise.
“My father is very outgoing and charismatic,” said Lucy Grogan. “He is a wonderful public speaker who is clear and articulate.” Apparently, the producers of Antiques Roadshow agree. For fifteen years, he has traveled around the country filming two to three shows a year.
When Grogan appraises the antiques brought to the February 5 Heirloom Discovery Evening he won’t have time to check references about their history or backgrounds. But, the knowledgeable auctioneer said he’s not worried. ‘I’ll be totally adlibbing,” he said. “And that’s what we do on a daily basis. Plus the heirlooms will prompt me to tell surprising stories of similar ones I’ve sold at auctions in the past.”
Heirloom Discovery Evening will take place from 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm at the Grogan & Company gallery at 20 Charles Street. Guests may bring one piece of art, jewelry or antique (no rare books) or a photograph of a larger item, such as an Oriental rug or piece of furniture to be appraised. Wine and light hors d’oeuvres will be served. Tickets for the fundraiser, which are $50 per person, are limited and payable at the time reservations are made by calling the Beacon Hill Village at 617-7323-9713 or online at wwwbeaconhillvillage.org.