NEW HAMBURG, Canada – Ethan Miller, co-owner of Miller & Miller Auctions Ltd. in New Hamburg, Canada, credits his late father, Jim, a longtime antiques dealer, for giving him a front-seat view to the antiques world and the details of collecting and selling. Ethan and his brother Justin began selling on eBay back in 2006 and, 10 years later, transitioned to an auction house model. Today, the firm is known for high-value goods and collections, particularly those significant to Canada’s cultural heritage.
What is the most important thing your father taught you?
Honesty. At the end of it all, you could take a million years to build a reputation and a moment to destroy it. He was an intelligent guy who managed his reputation carefully. In this business, there are so many temptations and little things that could destroy. I think we are all walking around with some form of report card, but he had a really good one.
What are some of the biggest market areas for your firm right now?
The advertising and petroliana has had an enormous surge. We also focus on luxury watches, and that market has performed very well. They trade like currency. I would say those and then Canadiana and folk art. Certain types of folk art are really hot, others are not but it’s that old saying: people collect artists, not art.
When it comes to petroliana, what are some brands or names that collectors look for?
In terms of the Canadian environment on that material, there were companies that were solely Canadian, like Red Indian, McColl-Frontenac or Supertest. People do collect by brand and they tend to be very brand-loyal. We are seeing some of those signs reach into the neighborhood of CA$20,000 to $50,000 dollars, particularly die-cut porcelain signs. It’s just remarkable, the interest.
You’ve done well with Maud Lewis and helped bring her art to the forefront. Would you talk about how she became an important Canadian artist?
It’s amazing – for all of those years she was doing what she did, selling her paintings roadside for like $5. She then had a bit of fame on CBC and increased her prices a little. At the end of the day, she still died poor, but overcame all kinds of adversity. I think it is great that her work is coming into its own and I truly feel that it is as much about Maud as what she created.
What is a typical day on the job like for you?
I am trying to focus on where I add the most value to the consignor and obviously the company as well, which is being able to source, curate and put together great auctions, all of which, of course, we put on the LiveAuctioneers platform. The most exciting days are the ones where we are on the road discovering things, walking into a collection where somebody feels strongly about the service and says you are a good fit. And, in turn, we are looking up at them, saying I cannot wait to get my hands on this stuff because people are going to eat it up.
You and your brother co-own your namesake auction house. How do you split up the duties? Where do each of your strengths lie?
Well, if you know of a consultant in that area, we can use all the help we can. You have actually hit on the cornerstone of the challenges of that. You start basically just trying to do everything you possibly can, throwing everything at it and going crazy. At some point you realize it’s not sustainable, and you need to have roles, and you need to be clear on who’s doing what. We are still, after eight or nine years, trying to figure a lot of that out, so I think job descriptions and things are as critical to new employees as to Justin and I.
Would you please talk about a memorable item you sold?
Two of the highlights were recent. We are in a tiny town, and both items were sourced from entirely different people, two blocks away. One was a gentleman by the name of Emerson Luckhardt, and he saved everything. You walked into his shed and you would just see a string of license plates, starting from 1909 right through to when he passed away in 1982. We were given an invitation to take a look at the shed. I didn’t see a whole lot that would qualify for one of our sales, and then we were invited back to the house and I declined the invite. They said, “You better come because you never know what you’re gonna find.” I went, and sure enough, there was a pair of canvas temporary license plates issued during World War 1. These are very rare in the collecting world, and a pair of them is even scarcer. They sold for close to CA$17,000.
The other one was a die-cut corner sign for Carhartt Overalls originally mounted on the local Murray’s Clothing & Footwear and also from the original family. They saved it, put virtually put no value on it whatsoever, and we astonished them with the CA$22,000 that it brought. It’s amazing how things can be found locally and garner international interest.
To contact Ethan Miller or to discuss a future consignment to Miller & Miller Auctions Ltd., call 519-662-4800. Click to visit Miller & Miller Auctions Ltd. online.
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