By Laurie Paolicelli
Leland Little Auctioneers is nestled between a highway and the country forest, not far from the town of Hillsborough, a town which is on the National Historic Registry — which is appropriate, since Leland Little Auction House is, in part, history.
The Hillsborough-based auction house specializing in everything from fine jewelry and silver, furniture and fine wine, art of all kinds, and even coins, is a global enterprise. It is where the cognoscenti goes to ensure that items of potential value are accurately researched and professionally presented to an international community of collectors.
After all, antiques are all that history has left for us. Antiques are time machines, and it’s good to know where they’re taking us.
Much of the selling at Little takes place online, but five years ago Little envisioned a gallery-like space that would embody a 21st-century model for bringing collectors, buyers and sellers together under one roof, an expansion designed by Chapel Hill architect Richard Gurlitz. Today its 41,000 square feet displays the best of their brands, whether it is Mid-century Modern, high-end fashion, Chanel jewelry, fine wine or whiskey.
This is not your grandaddy’s auction house. A team of specialists oversee the various specialty areas. Lauren Sanford, for instance. Lauren holds a Ph.D. in Art History from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a BA in Spanish from Davidson College. Her knowledge is vast, as is her experience: she used to work at Sotheby’s.
Lauren has had the distinction of selling prints and photographs by some of the most renowned artists in the world: Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso, and Ansel Adams, just to name a few.
“We were privileged to sell a beautiful collection of Alfred Stieglitz works,” Lauren says. “He was an early photographer, and we sold seven photographs from a collection here in North Carolina. The top lot (the item that sold for the highest price) — brought $440,000 on the hammer that day, and which was very exciting. This remains an international auction record for this particular photograph, and it is also one of the highest auction prices ever achieved for a Stieglitz photograph.”
Despite the online popularity and enlarged space, Leland Little says he still enjoys hands-on work. He likes to personally review potential incoming consignors and consignments to determine what’s appropriate for the Auction House. Counterintuitively, keeping an eye on the future is always top of mind. “What should help elevate and move the business forward, what are we doing next quarter, what are we doing next year, what are we doing five years from now, and what groundwork needs to be laid to get there.”
Today, there are many reasons why collectors are opting to buy from auctions. Access to highly sought-after works; a more straightforward buying process; pricing transparency, and, at times, the potential to find high-quality works at relatively affordable prices.
In today’s world, bidding on the internet is essential. Leland Little has a robust software system and online bidding systems in place.
“What an amazing success story,” says former Hillsborough mayor Tom Stevens, “building a local business into a world-class and internationally respected operation. I have furniture and art at home I’ve acquired from them and have consigned items there as well. It’s clear they operate with a high level of integrity; they’ve been generous in supporting community organizations as well. And it’s just fun to watch the astonishing array of items sold through the auction house. I’m a big fan.”
Concord, NC resident Doug Stafford journeys to Hillsborough often to visit. “My wife and I have long been fans of Hillsborough. We love the town’s history, its architecture and the beautiful, rolling hills surrounding the town. Our home in Concord is furnished with a number of pieces that we purchased in local antique shops during our visits to Hillsborough. A few years ago, a friend who is familiar with our love of art and antiques told us of Leland Little so we decided to attend one of their Gallery Auctions. Since that first experience, we have participated in a number of their estate and signature auctions. Without question, Leland Little is one of the top auction houses in the southeast.”
A Sampling of Upcoming Auctions
Luxury & Collector Vehicles: November 30, 2022, 12:00 pm
The Signature Winter Auction: December 3, 2022, 9:00 am
Winter Modern Art & Design: January 26, 2023, 9:00 am
Laurie Paolicelli is the Executive Director of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau.