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Wealthy Drove Collectible Sales Through the Roof in 2014

Record wealth for the wealthy meant record prices for trophy purchases in 2014.
Alberto Giacometti's Chariot, which was a part of Sotheby's New York November Evening auctions items, sold for $101 million.JEWEL SAMAD / AFP - Getty Images
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Record wealth for the wealthy meant record prices for trophy purchases in 2014.

From a $147 million oceanfront estate in the Hamptons to a $38 million Ferrari and a $24 million pocket watch, the most sought-after status symbols and collectibles of the rich reached an entirely new level this year.

While most experts say the collectibles boom will continue given the growing number of millionaires and billionaires, some say that sectors like cars have reached bubble-like levels and are poised for a slowdown—if not a correction.

McKeel Hagerty, CEO of Hagerty, the insurer of collectible cars, said that the auction total for collectible cars was $1.3 billion in 2014, up from $1.2 billion in 2013. There were 158 cars sold for $1 million or more, up from 145 in 2013.

Yet Hagerty said that prices have gotten so high after four-straight years of increases that many buyers are starting to balk. He said prices started to soften at the end of this year, which may signal a slowdown—but not a crash—next year.

"There are still a ton of buyers out there," he said. "But no one wants to be made a fool of by overpaying. I think the market may be taking a collective inhale to see where this market goes."

Most of the auction experts and companies in the collectibles are bullish on the collectibles market. They all point to a simple equation—there are more rich people (more than 12 million millionaires and nearly 2,000 billionaires in the world) yet a scarce number of 1960s Ferraris and Mark Rothko paintings.

Confidence and mood

Yet the spending of the wealthy is a matter of confidence and mood as much as money. And with the stock market falling and trouble brewing in emerging markets, demand from overseas buyers that has been fueling much of the collectibles boom could falter. It could also have an impact on real estate.

So whether 2014 is just a warm-up to even higher prices in 2015 or the prelude to a collectibles correction remains to be seen. But for now, the past seems to have set a record for the number of record prices. They include:

  • The most expensive single-family residence ever sold. An 18-acre beachfront property in East Hampton, New York, sold in April for $147 million. The house wasn't even on the market, but was quietly purchased by hedge funder Barry Rosenstein, the founder of Jana Partners. The year actually saw three homes fetch more than $100 million.
  • The most expensive real estate listing in the U.S. Palazzo di Amore, a 25-acre estate in Beverly Hills, California, can be yours for $195 million, and comes with 53,000 square feet of living space, a bowling alley, a theater that seats 50 and a Turkish spa. It also has a large wine cellar, which is handy since it also has a vineyard.
  • The $100 million Chariot. A 1951-52 bronze sculpture of a woman on a chariot topped the art auction charts this year with a sale price of $101 million. The buyer was later revealed to be Steve Cohen, the hedge-fund billionaire whose previous firm, SAC Capital, pleaded guilty to insider trading charges and paid a $1.8 billion fine. The two main auctions houses—Sotheby's and Christies'—sold more than 20 works this year for more than $30 million.
  • The most expensive lot of wine ever sold. Sotheby's in October sold a lot of Romanee-Conti for $1.6 million, or around $14,000 per bottle, or $1,700 per glass.
  • The most expensive car ever auctioned. At the Pebble Beach "car-a-palooza" in August, a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO became the most expensive car ever sold at auction for $38.1 million. That may sound like a lot, but some experts were predicting a sale price of $50 million or more. As Jay Leno told me after the sale, "Only in Pebble Beach would $38 million be a disappointment."
  • Pricey pocket watch. The Patek Philippe Supercomplication pocket watch sold for $24 million at Sotheby's in Geneva, setting the record price for any timepiece ever sold at auction.
  • Record-setting stamp. Philatelists had another banner year, as the British Guiana One-Cent Black Magenta set a new world auction record, selling for $9.48 million at a Sotheby's auction—nearly a billion times its original face value.