Two signs from the London headquarters of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. sold at auction today for a total of 70,800 pounds ($111,700) as collectors and souvenir hunters snapped up remains of the collapsed bank.
The metal sign from outside Lehman’s U.K. office, valued at as much as 3,000 pounds, sold for 42,050 pounds at Christie’s International in London. A metal plaque commemorating the opening of the Lehman offices by the then U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown on April 5, 2004, was estimated to sell for between 1,000 pounds and 1,500 pounds. It fetched 28,750 pounds.
New York-based Lehman was the world’s fourth-largest investment bank on Sept. 15, 2008, when it filed the biggest bankruptcy in U.S. history. It had assets of $639 billion. More than $830 billion in claims have been filed against Lehman, which has said many are duplicates.
“Everyone recognizes the bankruptcy was the turning point in the economy,” William Porter, head of British and Irish art at Christie’s South Kensington, said in an interview before the sale. “The infamy of the name is a good provenance. The attraction lies in the car-crash element.”
Both of the signs sold today were bought by telephone bidders. The larger sign was underbid on the Internet from China.
The sale totaled 1.6 million pounds with fees against an official forecast of 769,600 pounds to 1.1 million pounds, based on hammer prices, Christie’s said. All but two of the 308 offered lots found buyers. A record 330 bidders were registered online.
“The fall of Lehman Brothers was a historic event, a seminal moment in the financial crisis,’’ said Nathaniel Graham, 31, a landlord from Brixton, who was an unsuccessful bidder on several of the failed bank’s corporate signs. “I just thought it would be nice to have something on the wall that was a reminder of it. I’ve never bought anything at an auction before. Unfortunately the prices were way out of my range,’’ he said in an interview.
Graham was one of several souvenir-hunting newcomers among the subdued audience of over 100 that gathered in Christie’s white-painted saleroom in South Kensington. He was an under bidder on a sign made up of green plastic-coated letters that sold for 4,750 pounds against a high estimate of 300 pounds. The buyer in the room was an agent, who declined to be named, representing a banker based in Turkey. Lots estimated at 1,000 or less were offered without reserve.
A leather-bound eight-volume set of Edward Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’’ was one of the more traditional items that decorated Lehman’s Canary Wharf offices. This sold for 2,375 pounds against a low estimate of 200 pounds to 300 pounds, while a 1985 Lucian Freud etching of the art critic Bruce Bernard fetched 28,750 pounds against an upper valuation of 12,000 pounds.
Bidding on the more highly estimated artworks tended to be more measured. Gary Hume’s 1994 painting, “Madonna’’ -- the most highly valued item in the sale at 80,000 pounds to 120,000 pounds -- sold for 73,250 pounds.
Gabriel Orozco’s 1996 computer-generated print, “Atomists: Jump Over,’’ featuring geometrical shapes superimposed on a photograph of soccer players, was the most expensive lot, selling for 99,560 pounds against an upper estimate of 80,000 pounds. Both works fell to telephone buyers, said Christie’s.
“The prices were pretty crazy,” the London-based book and print dealer Nigel Talbot said in an interview. “We were being asked to pay a thousand pounds for a set of Dickens.”
Lehman’s creditors include Goldman Sachs Group Inc., UBS AG, the New York Giants and Abu Dhabi Investment Authority as well as individuals who hold Lehman bonds.
The bank has said it may spend five more years selling assets to pay unsecured creditors as little as 14.7 cents on the dollar.
Today’s sale follows a Sept. 25 auction at Sotheby’s in New York that raised $12.3 million for creditors. Another sale follows at Freeman’s in Philadelphia on Nov. 7.
(Scott Reyburn writes about the art market for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)
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