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The Friday Five: Wade Terwilliger


Urban Culture Auctions is pioneering a new style of auction. Wade Terwilliger, the company’s president, talks about the changing landscape of auctions and the memorable pieces that have come across his desk.

Urban Culture Auctions is the offspring of Palm Beach Modern Auctions. What drove the decision to create Urban Culture?

Palm Beach Modern Auctions had several successful sales of culture-related items that received worldwide press and 100% sell-through rates: Studio 54 (Estate of Steve Rubell, owner of Studio 54), Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis photographs & notes, and Karl Lagerfeld drawings (from the Tiziani archives).

Urban Culture Auctions is different from Palm Beach Modern Auctions in that it really focuses on current “in the news” items. Additionally, the price points tend to be lower, engaging a younger and “new to the auction world” audience. One of the most exciting things about this launch is the reaction from our audience to seeing such unexpected items come up for bid, evoking everything from nostalgia to passion, and this really solidified the idea in our minds that the Urban/Pop Culture Sale had long-term, standalone potential. The public’s growing interest in and fascination with this genre was apparent. Urban Culture Auctions was created to meet the marketplace’s desire/demand.

Urban Culture Auctions offers a broad variety of objects, from memorabilia of entertainers/headline-makers to movie props and sneakers. Our inaugural auction included NASA-related photographs and ephemera; a Michelin Tires Man (Bibendum); a vintage Better Times neon bubble clock; pop art from Roy Lichtenstein/Peter Max/Yayoi Kusama; collectable skateboards; Takashi Murakami SUPERFLAT MUSEUM figures/toys; a single-owner collection of 15 vintage televisions; a Weltron GEC 2005 stereo system; iconic furniture from Charles & Ray Eames; several Banksy items, including DI-FACED TENNER notes/prints; estate-related items from the fashion designer/artist Michaele Vollbracht; JW Anderson for Converse HI TOY sneakers; gay erotic magazines; swatch watches; records; and rock & roll posters. We also received extensive press regarding a collection of letters written by James “Whitey” Bulger Jr., the noteworthy organized crime boss and gangster.

The Friday Five

In what ways has the auction world evolved over the past decades?

I believe the auction business has truly hit its stride. Thanks to the internet and flow of information, both consignors and buyers are sophisticated and informed. With a few exceptions, we have seen traditional retail face huge changes and decline in sales, while auctions have become more relevant. Auctions reflect true market value and offer a level of excitement and engagement that traditional retail has struggled to achieve.

The Friday Five

Your education and background are in engineering. How did you get involved with auctioning?

I owned an environmental engineering firm for years, but my degree is in economics, marketing, and business administration. I started out collecting arts-and-crafts pottery in my 30s, and by my 40s I was collecting modern furniture and design. When I sold the engineering firm, I turned my passion into a business. My business partner, Rico Baca, and I opened Objects20c, a gallery specializing in 20th-century furniture and design. The auction business was a natural extension.

The Friday Five

What are some of the memorable pieces that have come into Urban Culture Auctions?

The Urban Culture Auctions division has been incredibly fun; we have a very young team and I love seeing them engaged with the offerings.

The James “Whitey” Bulger Jr. collection of letters and notes was fascinating due to the subject matter. The collection came in from a business associate of Whitey’s. Rico was the auctioneer and summed it up for CNN: “We think that we know what it’s like to be in prison because we watch movies and we watch TV,” Baca said. “But [through these letters] I think you really get an understanding of the mundane things, the grind on a daily basis, and what it’s truly like to be in prison.”

We sold a large collection of Swatch watches, which was interesting for me because I remember when they came out in the 1980s and of course I had to have one or two or three! I was also excited to see the public’s interest in them, and the entire collection sold.

Our entire team was excited to see a Weltron GEC 2005 stereo system reach a record $7,800 (inclusive of buyer’s premium) on an estimate of $300-$500. A total of 49 bids were presented.

The Friday Five

What can we look forward to in 2019 from Urban Culture Auctions?

Wow, interesting question. The Urban Culture Auction division is reflective of current trends and interests so it really is up to the marketplace. I hope you and your audience will be watching Urban Culture Auctions as much as we will be watching you!

The Friday Five

Learn more about Urban Culture Auctios on their website.

Five questions, one fascinating person (or team!) – look into the minds of movers and shakers in the nostalgia, game, play, or toy industry.