FALLS CHURCH, Va. – Matthew Quinn is quick to say he does not view himself primarily as an auctioneer. While firmly ensconced as senior vice president in his family’s auction business, Matt says when he goes on a house call, he is not as focused on “stuff” as he is on people and assessing the most expeditious way to assist them. It’s an approach that has served him well and helped transform Quinn’s Auction Galleries in Falls Church, Va., from a small auction company into a large, full-service antiques and fine art auction firm. Today, Quinn’s can sell everything in a home, get the house cleared and ready to list, and even sell it. Matt helmed the development of Quinn’s Realty & Estate Services division, which was established to help senior citizens with the downsizing process. He spoke with Auction Central News about auctions and finding joy in helping people through the process.
What was your path to the auction world?
Quinn’s is a family business, and I’ve been full-time for more than 20 years. I had a background in publicity and marketing. After a 2001 fire at our original venue, we relaunched with a new business plan, new concept, new marketing, new approach, and we were able to hit the ground running. To this day, I don’t really consider myself an auctioneer. I consider myself a person helping people downsize and maximize the return on property they have owned and loved for a lifetime.
Tell us about Quinn’s.
We are a comprehensive estate service provider, so we have a weekly sale that contains just about anything – Le Creuset pots on up to modestly-priced artwork. We have a higher-end estate group that does very mixed sales and really adapts to the needs of the client and the merchandise. We also do Collectors Series sales that include rare books, prints, and autographs. We have a tribal art division that is pretty robust. We do Japanese netsuke and Chinese snuff bottles, and we are one of the only places in the country that really understands the ivory laws and can help clients determine what is legal and what is not.
What is a typical day on the job look like for you?
I’m sitting in my pickup truck in the parking lot of the building right now. I looked at two pieces of real estate this morning, had a video conference call from my car, and saw a client. This afternoon we’re scheduling trucks. Before I got on the phone with you, I was talking to one of my managers. We’re in constant motion … meeting the needs of the community as they come up.
What brings you the most satisfaction in your job?
It’s really helping people and seeing the overwhelming joy they get when somebody takes a great weight off their shoulders. There are so many people from all walks of life who just want somebody to help. The relief they will share with you is pretty real. I remember we were selling an early Roy Lichtenstein. I think we had put it in the auction with a $40,000-$60,000 estimate but were thinking it might do a lot more. The auction started and it was sort of slow going to $40,000. We got to $40,000, hit the reserve, and the owner, who was in the audience, looked at me and smiled. It crossed $80,000, and he had a look of joy on his face. As it crossed $100,000, there were tears coming down his face. There is no greater feeling of success than to take an object, be able to have it perform, and have a family member express their gratitude that way. We might be called to an apartment where Mom has taken what she wanted, or maybe she passed away and her daughters have taken what they wanted, and now there’s this big pile. The consignors are so relieved when they find that we’ll take everything. We’ve built relationships with local nonprofit thrift stores and trash companies, and we literally will take away everything. We will put the valuable pieces in the right sale and the ordinary items in our weekly sale, and we’ll donate other items to a local nonprofit and give you a tax receipt. We will even remove the trash from a residence, if desired, and have the house cleaned, painted, and sold. The loss of a loved one is such a hard process, the last thing that most people want to do is deal with all this stuff, and the house as well. There are so many people that get taken advantage of at this time [in their lives], and we really work to make sure that doesn’t happen.
It can be hard for people to choose what to keep and what to get rid of.
We work with consignors on that. I think it’s important for folks to choose objects in the home that they share a memory with, for example choosing something associated with their mom that can be placed on the mantel and serve as a reminder of her every day versus putting a box in the attic because you felt guilty selling her stuff.
It sounds like there is quite a bit of psychology to this business.
We spend a lot of time on that. I think it’s important. I’ve had lots of auctioneers ask me what’s behind my success, and I say it’s because I care about the people, not the stuff. I don’t go into a house and think about ‘What do they have to sell.’ I go into a house and think about what their challenges are, and how we can help.
How has your business changed in the last year?
2020 was a good year. Lots of people were stuck home, clicking and buying. We were able to pivot on a dime and move our weekly sales online within two weeks. We’re actually not going back to in-person auctions for our weekly sales, so they will remain online only. We’ve been very fortunate and we are going to learn and retain the new practices that we were successful while reinstating earlier practices where they make more sense. All in all, the auction world has changed because of the pandemic. Change was coming anyway. It’s just been accelerated, and I think that ultimately we’re all going to be better for it in the long run.
To contact Matthew Quinn, including to discuss a future consignment to Quinn’s Auction Galleries’s sales, call 703.532.5632. Click to visit Quinn’s Auction Galleries online.
* Click to read about Quinn’s Auction Galleries’ 2014 sale of the Auguste Rodin ‘Le Desespoir’ bronze.