NEW YORK – Elie Saporta and Linda Tarasuk, co-owners of La Belle Epoque Auction Gallery, are long-time collectors with a keen eye for antiques and art. The auction house’s name might seem familiar; it references La Belle Epoque Vintage Posters, which Saporta and Tarasuk founded in 1985. The poster gallery continues to operate as a separate business, but the two recently made their foray into auctions. The house’s debut sale was in February. Tarasuk talked with Auction Central News about the new venture, trends and the challenges of launching a business during a pandemic.
How did you go from a vintage poster collector to a dealer to an auctioneer?
I grew up with art and antiques from my parents and grandparents. I studied at New York University School of Education, but with a major in art. As a collector of vintage posters, I then developed a major, major passion for it, which then brought me into the business in 1985. You can’t just keep collecting and collecting — where are you going to put it all?
When the pandemic hit, many of your customers started calling upon you to sell not just their posters, but other fine things in their homes?
We were actually in a small space that was way too cramped for us, and our lease was coming to an end. This was just around the time of the pandemic. Actually, before that, for a couple of years, we were getting inquiries from customers or even family members of our customers. Many had aged and decided to move from their big homes into apartments in the city or Florida or elsewhere. They couldn’t use all the art they had and asked what we could do to help them. So we bought back many of the items, but we couldn’t buy back everything. The next request was, “we don’t know what to do with everything else” — everything else being carpeting, furnishings and decorative arts.
Did the timing seem fortuitous?
We were fortunate enough to rent a marvelous space of almost 5,000 square feet in the Meatpacking District — the most popular area in New York City — and at the same time, we were invited in by LiveAuctioneers. We were able to get merchandise from customers, and LiveAuctioneers was ready and willing to be involved. We also had a very dear friend who happens to be a major appraiser, so all of it seemed to gel. We had our first winter auction in February, and that turned out to be a success. We sold pieces all over the world through LiveAuctioneers and our own website. And in-house, we actually had about 30 people.
Are you seeing many young buyers these days?
We have tremendous interest from the 20-, 30- and 40-year-olds. I think they have suddenly decided they are fed up with minimalism and done with disposable merchandise. I would say most of the auction pieces [in the February sale] went to young people.
When will your next auction be, and how often will you hold them?
We are looking forward to having seasonal sales our first year and after that, probably monthly. Our next sale is our spring auction in mid-May. We already have a wealth of merchandise – we have a major collection of clocks and pocket watches from a store that had gone out of business after many years. We have important guitars and toy train collections that have been offered to us.
What buying trends did you notice in your inaugural auction?
We had Limoges dinnerware that went for $10,000, and it was only a partial set. I started it at $200 because it was a partial set, and it just went and went. There were two people fighting over it and then it finally went to $10,000. It was a surprise and so much fun.
Your auction house is a throwback to the disappearing tradition of boutique-style auction houses. Why is that important to you?
High rents have really pushed a lot of small businesses out. People can come in and enjoy the personal experience of just moving around this big space, touching, feeling and talking about each item. That’s something that is pretty much lost, but we have it here in this very inviting atmosphere. We are here, hopefully, to take over and fill that void. We are very happy to explain everything in detail. In my early life, I was a school teacher [first and second grade] so part of my being is in teaching. I tell everybody you don’t have to buy, but let me explain what it’s all about. It’s an unusual space, and it’s truly magical just being in here.
How is LiveAuctioneers helping you build your business?
LiveAuctioneers is fabulous. Before the auction, they answered all of our questions and were very helpful. We had a Herman Miller conference table and chairs that sold well, and guess what? It shipped to Korea. That’s LiveAuctioneers for you. I don’t know how much it cost to ship, but I’m sure it was way more than they paid for it.
I know you have a collection of posters in your home. Do you collect anything else?
I have a major collection of American art pottery and French cameo glass, including Galle and Lalique, and also fashion stuff – Hermes, Chanel and Prada.
Do you have any final thoughts to share?
It’s an exciting adventure and journey that we are on right now. It’s a learning experience. Every day, there is something new to learn about, which is what I love. They say when you love what you do, it’s not really work. I love coming in and being involved in this. It’s wonderful.
To contact Linda Tarasuk to discuss a future consignment to La Belle Epoque Auction Gallery, call 212-362-1770. Click to visit La Belle Epoque Auction Gallery online.