LOS ANGELES – Andrew Jones, 56, has converted his 40 years of experience at premium auction houses in the U.S. and abroad into his own business just south of downtown Los Angeles. Jones is president and chief executive of Andrew Jones Auctions, a full-service fine art and antiques auction operation, which recently celebrated its one-year anniversary with a winning bid of $220,000 for a very rare set of books — a complete second edition of "Description de l'Egypte," written in French by C.L.F. Panckoucke. In a sign of how much the auction business has changed, only 100 people attended in person and 1,935 participated online.
Jones still runs the auctions occasionally, but the face-to-face cajoling and encouragement he once used exclusively to boost auction prices has been superseded by larger numbers of phone bidders and an online audience watching the bids from their homes and offices. At first, Jones said, "it was a little confusing, disorienting. … It took about 20 lots for me to just remember that there were people out there" beyond the phones and computer screens.
Jones became fascinated by auctions at age 6 in his native country of England, and he quit school at 16 to begin his career at the G.A. Keys auction house in the small town of Aylsham.
"I was a sponge," Jones said. "By age 12 I knew all of the woods, oak, mahogany, walnut, elm, yew."
There is a ritual of testing at some businesses, some awful assignment to see if the new recruit is committed. Jones says his was "excruciating, moving pigs from trucks to the auction house. The worst day of my life. I hate pigs. I really hate them. I said to my dad, 'I don't know if I can go back.' He said, 'You can't quit now. It's your first day. It could get better. Can it get any worse?' "
Jones did go back and began building a reputation as a shrewd, honest and successful auctioneer, one who knew how often he could go back to a likely bidder and precisely when to do it without scaring them off. From there, he was hired at Phillips in London, the now 223-year-old auction house. The transition was not intimidating, he said, in spite of moving into the upper echelon of item values.
Some advice that Jones took to heart throughout his career came from his mother, Phyllis. "She said, 'If you treat everybody like they're your grandmother, you'll never go far wrong,' " particularly when it comes to visiting homes for appraisals, looking for items that might be great for an auction, Jones said.
Jones spent nearly 20 years with Phillips, rising as high as regional director for its East Anglia office. He eventually moved to Los Angeles, serving as director for furniture and decorative arts and private collections and house sales for North America. But Jones wanted his own establishment, despite the boom-and-bust cycles of auctions, an aging population of buyers, and younger, more tentative clients. He employs six people full time.
"My dad told me, 'Know what your weaknesses are and make sure you surround yourself with people whose strengths are your weaknesses,' " Jones said. "That's the team I've got."
Jones said his clients have included Shera Falk, widow of the actor Peter Falk of Columbo fame, and Joanna Carson, a former wife of "The Tonight Show" host Johnny Carson.