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International Art Market: Buyers find bargains among former dealer's stock

THE FINANCIAL collapse of Camille Burgi, a top Paris dealer, and the offer of his entire stock for sale at knockdown prices provided a sensational start to the new auction season.

The sale demonstrated that there are plenty of takers for lavish interior decorations - but at a price. Burgi's creditors had not permitted protective reserves, minimum prices below which an item would not be permitted to sell. As a result only 3 of the 231 offered were left without buyers, but some went very cheap.

Burgi had climbed from lowly beginnings in the Paris flea market. Last year he took magnificent premises in the Rue du Faubourg Saint Honore and filled them with well-restored 18th and early 19th century furnishings and minor Old Master pictures. In an unusual move, he labelled every piece with a price - most dealers like to keep prices secret and adjust them according to the wealth of prospective buyers.

Other Paris dealers had objected to the sale since it allowed their clients to buy smart furniture cheap. They turned up to the auction as observers while private buyers carried off most of the loot. The top price was 550,000 francs ( pounds 66,400) for a French mirror of circa 1700 framed in verre eglomise - glass painted in gold on the back with exquisite Chinoiserie scenes; it had been marked at three times that price in Burgi's gallery.

In Britain, recession 'fall-out' also led to a sensational price in a country sale. Richard Allen, made redundant by Sotheby's last spring, has taken charge of Halls' fine art auctions in Shrewsbury and carried some of his clients with him. Last month he offered a pair of giltwood armchairs from a famous suite made by Thomas Chippendale for the actor David Garrick - two others from the set are in the Victoria & Albert Museum. James Hepworth, a Ludlow dealer, beat off competition from a Bond Street dealer and a New York telephone bidder to pay pounds 59,400 for the chairs.

September auction results were unneven. The most successful sale of the month was Christie's New York dispersal of the collection of American stamps formed by Ryohei Ishikawa, a Japanese property developer. He had concentrated on very early items, dating from between 1847 and 1869 but had bought so many that the collection took two days to sell. It made dollars 9.5m ( pounds 6.4m), with 3 per cent left unsold. An envelope sent from Montreal to London via New York in 1851 with a strip of five US 5 cent stamps combined with a threepenny Candadian 'Beaver' made a record dollars 727,500 ( pounds 493,000).

Neumeister of Munich scored the top prices of the month with two little paintings by Carl Spitzweg, a much loved local artist who specialised in humorous scenes from the life of the petit bourgeois. A painting of a monk fishing, surrounded by children, which dates from around 1855-60, made 880,000 marks ( pounds 370,000) against an estimate of 500,000 marks. The other, entitled The Serenade, also topped estimate at 540,000 marks ( pounds 227,000).

The more problematic auctions of the month included Sotheby's dispersal of Viennese decorative arts from the high fashion period circa 1900. Only half the items found buyers though a painted wooden chair with a cane seat, designed by Koloman Moser in 1903, went to a Japanese enthusiast at pounds 85,100.

Christie's put art critics in their place by mounting a sale of contemporary art selected by London's leading commentators, entitled 'Critic's Choice', failing even to raise a bid on most of the lots. Of the 72 paintings and sculptures only 23 found buyers.