This fall after a 40-year tenure in Oak Park, Toomey & Co. Auctioneers is packing its bags. The auction house merged with Rago/Wright and is relocating to Wright’s Chicago headquarters on Hubbard Street in the West Loop.
As with Rago/Wright’s 2021 partnership with LA Modern Auctions, Toomey & Co. will maintain its name, and all four houses will work together to share technology, expertise and marketing.
CEO Lucy Toomey, daughter of founder and President John Toomey, said the timing was right for a change.
“We had outgrown our space in Oak Park, and with the way the auction world is trending, this move made sense,” she said.
According to Lucy Toomey, the Oak Park auction house would hold four regular auctions each year, each featuring roughly 1,200 lots for sale. In recent years, the number of auctions has increased almost four-fold, and this move to more frequent, smaller auctions increased their need for resources and reliance on technology.
The merger also dovetails with the changing retail climate created by the pandemic.
“The pandemic really affected things,” Toomey said. “Pre-pandemic, we were challenged by the world of immediate gratification, when people expected to order something online and have it there the next day. With the pandemic, people were spending more time at home and not spending their money on traveling or dining out. They got the auction bug.”
Vice President and Senior Specialist John Walcher explained that auction houses like Toomey were not impacted by the pandemic in the same way as other retail businesses.
“We don’t have the supply chain issues that traditional retailers had,” Walcher said
Toomey & Co. is following a trend of houses merging, which allows them to share both resources and technology.
“We were looking to upgrade our technology and software anyway, and this made it easier for us,” Walcher said.
The combination lets each house benefit from the specific focus of the others. John Toomey established Toomey & Co. as a specialist in the Arts and Crafts movement. David Rago is a preeminent authority in 20th century decorative ceramics and design based on the east coast. Richard Wright’s focus is on modern design.
As one entity, the new firm will offer enhanced opportunities for buying and selling objects from a wider range of eras and movements. Toomey calls joining two established firms “the best of both worlds.”
In addition, Riley Humler, a Toomey & Co. specialist and president of the American Art Pottery Association, will bring his 30 years of expertise in the ceramics and pottery area to join that of David Rago, who has established Rago/Wright as the leading auction house for early 20th century American ceramics and art pottery.
Walcher says the merger will provide greater reach for Toomey & Co.
“We already had an international footprint,” Walcher said. “Now, having physical offices on the east and west coasts will give us an edge with some of our consignors.”
Richard Wright will remain in the position of CEO for the combined company, which will continue to offer curated auctions of art, design, ceramics, glass, jewelry and watches with digital presentations and state-of-the-art bidding technology. Rago/Wright’s first auction with Toomey & Co. is planned for Oct. 11 and will feature folk, outsider and self-taught art, and Americana.
Toomey says the newly-launched website, toomeyco.com, is a good entryway to the firm, but said talking to customers remains an important part of the business.
“We still love talking to our clients about all of their needs and interests,” Toomey said.
Toomey & Co. and their staff continue to migrate to the new Chicago location, and eventually Toomey says her father will be looking to lease or sell the building he owns on 818 North Blvd. in Oak Park.
“It was very bittersweet to leave Oak Park, and it’s very sad to leave our little building,” Toomey said. “Oak Park has been such a wonderful home to us.”