Inside the Auction House: Pook & Pook, Inc.

Rebekah Kaufman
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Pook & Pook, Inc. started as a small family business but eventually grew into a customer and consignor base of over 40,000 individuals and organizations. This growth is thanks in no small part to the auction house’s status as an early adopter and champion of online sales. Auction Daily spoke with Deirdre Pook Magarelli, President of Pook & Pook, Inc., to learn more about her company and its history, along with its successes and how it thrived despite COVID-19 lockdowns.

Auction Daily:  Tell us a bit about your company, Pook & Pook, Inc. 

Deirdre Pook Magarelli:  Pook & Pook Inc. was founded by Ronald and Debra Pook in 1984. The company is located in Chester County, PA, about 35 minutes west of Philadelphia, in an old stone inn built in 1761 with an adjacent state-of-the-art auction gallery. Today, we hold about 20 sales per year. Our auctions have consistently maintained a 97% average sell rate. Pook & Pook was one of the first top-tier auction houses to embrace online selling; we teamed up with five other auction companies to found Bidsquare in 2013.

Pine slide lid box by John Drissel sold for $137,000. Image from Pook & Pook, Inc.
Pine slide lid box by John Drissel sold for $137,000. Image from Pook & Pook, Inc.

Auction Daily: Tell our readers about your auction category expertise. What are some impressive sales results you’ve had over the years?

Deirdre Pook Magarelli:  We sell items from just about every category, including furniture, fine and decorative art, coins, jewelry, antique toys, pottery, porcelain, textiles, metalware, militaria, ephemera, cars, real estate, Native American and ethnographic objects, and others. We’ve set many records over the years. Recently, in July 2020, we sold a pine slide lid box by John Drissel (Pennsylvania, 1762-1846) for $137,000, an auction record for any box by the maker. 

We’ve also had many notable seven-figure sales over the years. Our historic William Koch sale in 1999, the largest on-site, one-day auction ever held in the United States at that point, grossed over $4.3 million. In 2004 and 2007, the two monumental auctions of the estate of Dr. Donald Shelley totaled over $10 million, closely followed by the Richard and Rosemarie Machmer auction in October of 2008, which realized $4.7 million. Today, it is not uncommon for any given sale of ours to break the million-dollar mark. For example, our recent two-day event featuring the 800 lot estate of Joyce Bowes Collis delivered $1.26 million, 19% above estimate.  

Auction Daily: Yes, that sale was really eye-catching! Who was Ms. Collis? What were a few of the surprise highlights from this auction?

Deirdre Pook Magarelli:  According to her daughter, Ms. Collins always had an eye for beauty. She attended the New York School of Interior Design, where she became the second student in the school’s history to have achieved the status of having a “perfect eye.” She worked as an interior designer and in advertising but was most happy combining her love for history and art. She collected late 18th and early 19th-century Americana and sought out furniture that was blue or yellow. A fixture at many shows as an exhibitor from the 1960s to early 2000s, she loved folk art and collected/represented many artists through the years, including David Ellinger. 

Walnut architectural schrank sold for $34,440. Image from Pook & Pook, Inc.
Walnut architectural schrank sold for $34,440. Image from Pook & Pook, Inc.

A few highlights from her sale included lot #683, an 18th-century sampler that brought $27,060 on its $3,000 – $5,000 presale estimate. Lot #471, a c. 1770 walnut architectural schrank, was estimated at $14,000 – 25,000 and delivered $34,440. And lot #1, an exceptional mocha pitcher, nearly doubled its high estimate to trade hands at $13,530.  

Auction Daily: Tell us about Pook & Pook, Inc. with Noel Barrett. 

Deirdre Pook Magarelli: Through 2016, toys had been a smaller subset of our decorative arts coverage.  Ron Pook hoped to expand our scope to include more auctions of toys and related material. A collaboration with Antiques Roadshow legend Noel Barrett, whose experience and reputation are largely unmatched, provided the backbone for such a move. Similarly, Barrett felt his smaller auction house could benefit from Pook & Pook, Inc.’s infrastructure and strong online and media presence. Ron Pook and Noel Barrett, friends for decades, saw an opportunity to improve on what both companies offered by continuing their proud traditions in tandem starting in 2016.

Mocha pitcher sold for $13,530. Image from Pook & Pook, Inc.
Mocha pitcher sold for $13,530. Image from Pook & Pook, Inc.

Auction Daily: Finally, this past 18 months has been a mixed bag when it comes to COVID-19’s impact on the auction business. How did you weather this storm?

Deirdre Pook Magarelli: We worked hard to keep everything moving forward during the pandemic. We applied for and received an exemption as an essential business to continue being open with modifications in place, including limits on how many staff members could be in the building at once, social distancing, mask-wearing, additional cleaning protocols, adding curbside pick-ups, etc. We have always had online-only sales, so we just switched everything over to online for a few months. 

Once we were able to add live auctions back into the mix, we adjusted by making everything by appointment, including exhibitions and arranging our auction hall so that everyone was spaced 6 feet apart. All customers and staff wore masks, and we added extra outdoor seating so people could take breaks. We are lucky that our facility is large enough that we were able to accommodate all of these modifications. We had 20 auctions in 2020 with fantastic results, and we are slated to complete 20 this year as well. Moving forward, beyond the pandemic, we plan to keep the appointments for pick-ups because that has really helped us simplify the pick-up process and serve the customers in a more timely fashion. We also plan to continue to expand our online auction presence.

For more information on Pook & Pook, Inc., please visit their website.

Want to read more interviews with industry experts? Auction Daily recently spoke with art advisor Elisa Carollo about the state of the market.

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