Client Success Story - Maak Contemporary Ceramics

Client Success Story - Maak Contemporary Ceramics

As a founding iRostrum Auction Partner and following a record breaking year for the specialist auction house, iRostrum thought it would be interesting to give a review of Maak, its progress in its industry challenging online auction format and see what lessons can be learnt by adopting a strong online marketing strategy.

Brief History

Maak Contemporary Ceramics is a specialist auctioneer and art consultancy that is dedicated to ceramic art of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Maak was established in 2008 by Marijke Varrall-Jones, former Head of Contemporary Ceramics at Bonhams. They hold two auctions a year, offering a broad selection of ceramic artists, reflecting all the major developments, with particular emphasis on British Studio Ceramics. The Maak Contemporary Ceramics auctions have become well established amongst collectors and feature the finest examples by the leading names in the field, from the early traditionalist potters such as Bernard Leach to contemporary ceramic artists including Edmund de Waal.

Despite the growing interest in this market from other specialist auction houses, today Maak Contemporary Ceramics is still the only organisation in the UK to hold regular auctions dedicated studio ceramics and is considered an international leader in this field.

Maak's recent successes

2016 saw Maak's most successful year to date with auction sales exceeding over £500,000 hammer total. We've seen some exceptional results over the last 12 months with numerous world records being set for several ceramic artists at auction.

An unquestionable highlight was the phenomenal result achieved for an extremely rare and important work by the German born British ceramic artist Hans Coper. Coper is arguably one of the most important post-war potter, having pioneered the concept of 'hand-built' ceramics with his wheel thrown and reconstructed composite works. The series of 'Cycladic' pots represent the pinnacle of Coper's creativity. They are considered his finest forms. The 'Cycladic' Winged Bud Form, made circa 1976, in the Maak auction came from the Artist's personal collection via the family. Estimated at £20,000-30,000 the work attracted considerable international attention and eventually sold for a buyer's premium inclusive price of £88,800. This represents the highest price achieved at a Maak Auction and exceeding the £88,000 World Record for his works achieved by Phillips back in 1999.

May 2016 also saw Maak set another world record for the ceramic artist John Ward. A monumental black and white pot sold for a record breaking £18,000 hammer - more than 10 times the listed top estimate. The November Maak auction saw similar results with two smaller works coming close at £17,000 and £14,000 hammer. These results set Maak apart from the rest of the market - far exceeding prices achieved elsewhere, even at the biggest international auction houses - helping to establish Maak as the leading marketplace for contemporary studio ceramics.

Maak and iRostrum

Maak has been using the iRostrum+ Auction Platform since 2011. As a Founding Auction Partner the system was built to fully meet their business requirements. By working closely in partnership with Maak, the iRostrum development team were able to gain a valuable first hand understanding of the practical work flows of working in and running an auction business. This makes iRostrum+ a comprehensive and intuitive system that can accommodate the many exceptions and irregularities of the business. It efficiently handles all client management, follows the working processes of consignments, receipts and contracts for detailed stock management and all other processes involved with running the actual auctions from cataloguing to invoicing and settlements.

Maak continues to have a highly collaborative relationship with iRostrum. The community nature of the iRostrum platform means that all auction partners have the potential to benefit from similar collaborative approaches, making the system ever more advanced at meeting auctioneer's requirements.

What iRostrum has delivered to Maak

"We were always very clear in our minds that the current dominant market model of using third party market places as bidding platforms does not best serve the auction houses. It contradicts every other industry's understanding of strong online marketing strategy that you should be looking to drive all possible traffic to your own website. That is what the iRostrum+ Auction Platform does for us so well.

After our first year of using the iRostrum system we had approximately 350 clients register to our auctions. In the intervening 5 years that figure has grown to in excess of 1,200 registered clients. Over 20% of clients are from outside of the UK - originating from 6 continents and over 30 individual countries. On average we have around 100 entirely new clients, which whom we have had no previous engagement, registering to bid in each auction we hold. The site see traffic levels of approximately 1500 individual users visiting the site on the closing day of the auction with in excess of 75 concurrent active bidders at any one moment.

We use a number of marketing platforms where we list our auction catalogues - I prefer to use market places where they offer transparency on the traffic that they generate for you so that we can measure how much activity they actually generate for us. However, whichever marketplaces we use, all traffic flows back to our iRostrum auction platform - all registrations and bids are placed directly via our site, which means we are able to build a really detailed picture of our bidder's activities and interests. It allows us to provide a very high level of personal service to our collectors, making them aware of works that they might have missed out on in the past when similar examples come up again in our auctions. Part of that is down to what we are able to do a small highly specialised auction house but this practice can easily be adopted for any auction given the level of data that iRostrum is able to capture.

The inbuilt SEO on the iRostrum auction platform has proven to be a very valuable lead generator. A high proportion of new clients are finding us directly online as a result of strong search engine ratings. The image tags work particularly well with our images for many artists coming up strong on Google searches. For such a visual field this is particularly effective in pulling people to the Maak website.

We continue to be very happy with the support and dynamic vision that iRostrum offer and are excited by the new developments that they will be launching in the coming months."

The next Maak Contemporary Ceramics Auction will take place in London 15-18 May 2017. Go to for more details.

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