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Mid-Atlantic mega merger: Quinn's, Ken Farmer acquire Harlowe-Powell Auction Gallery
Ken Farmer (left) and Paul Quinn, partners in the new Charlottesville, Va.-based business known as Farmer & Quinn Auctions.

FALLS CHURCH, VA.- In a move that will solidify the Virginia/DC auction landscape, Quinn’s Auction Galleries of Falls Church, Va., is aligning with Ken Farmer Auctions & Appraisals of Radford, Va., to purchase another of the state’s leading auction businesses – the venerable Harlowe-Powell Auction Gallery in Charlottesville. The new firm, which will operate under the banner of “Farmer & Quinn Auctions,” will officially launch on Oct. 1.

Although Ken Farmer will continue to operate Ken Farmer Auctions in Radford, he plans to relocate to Charlottesville, where he will serve as president of the newly minted Farmer & Quinn. Paul Quinn, founder and chairman of Quinn’s Auction Galleries, will assume the role of executive vice president and manager of Farmer & Quinn but will remain at Quinn’s Falls Church location, just outside Washington, DC. All Harlowe-Powell staff are expected to stay on in their present positions.

The current principals at Harlowe-Powell are Norman Dill and Vernon “Pat” Powell, who will continue to be associated as required to ensure a smooth transition, but in a different, non-employee role as referral agents.

“This merger has all the right pieces in place for success,” said Paul Quinn. “Ken brings his years of developed expertise and celebrity in the world of antiques and fine art, and Quinn’s is known as a dynamic inside-the-beltway company that’s growing by leaps and bounds. Harlowe-Powell is an old, respected auction house in the well-to-do Charlottesville area, with massive growth opportunity. We felt strongly that Harlowe-Powell would have enormous potential if you added Ken Farmer and Quinn’s to the equation.”

The idea of an auction-house mega merger was first discussed around 13 months ago at Tulsa International Airport, as Ken Farmer and Quinn’s Executive Vice President Matthew Quinn (Paul Quinn’s son) were waiting for their delayed flights to be called. The two men knew each other through their roles as on-air appraisers on PBS’s “Antiques Roadshow.”

“We started talking about the auction business, of course, and Ken said there were things about his location that frustrated him, while I said that I was happy with our location,” Matthew recalled. “As the conversation developed, we both realized that there might be an opportunity for our companies to do something together. I said, ‘Ken, whatever you decide to do, call me before you do it.’”

As months passed, Farmer continued to mull over the idea of a collaboration with Quinn’s. There was some talk of Farmer moving to the DC area or even relocating his business headquarters to exclusive Charlottesville. At the same time, Paul Quinn was eager to “go south” with his own rapidly growing company that had become a favorite with Washington’s affluent yuppies, federal government workers and military. The glue that pulled all of their thoughts together into one cohesive strategy was the availability of Harlowe-Powell, which was quietly for sale.

“The only problem was, the price was more than we wanted to pay,” Paul said. “I felt we could start up a new auction house for less than they were asking.”

Fortunately for all involved, discussions led to an amicable meeting of the minds, and a mutually agreeable selling price was settled upon in mid August.

Farmer said the synergy of having three auction houses working in partnership – each with its own distinct following and areas of expertise – will add great versatility to the way in which the companies are able to serve consignors in the Mid-Atlantic region.

“We’ll be able to send merchandise wherever we think it will make the most money,” said Farmer. “For instance, higher-quality merchandise from Radford will be sent to the Charlottesville location. Very recently an important Pulaski County clock was consigned to me. It’s similar to an 1820 clock that Colonial Williamsburg bought for $209,000 at Harlowe-Powell some 15 years ago. This ‘brother’ clock will be sent to Charlottesville as the lead item in Farmer & Quinn’s November 3rd sale.”

Farmer said the same “best-fit” policy will apply to antiques and artworks that are consigned to Farmer & Quinn and Quinn’s Auction Galleries. “We will have trucks constantly running to and from all three locations, picking up and dropping off goods,” he said. “We’re also developing a plan whereby any buyer who has purchased an item at one of our auction-house locations can request its delivery, free of charge, to either of the other two locations within our group of companies.”

“We see Charlottesville as a great opportunity – a new frontier,” Farmer continued. “I’ve consulted with some key customers whose judgment I trust about this, and every person I’ve talked to has said they think it’s a great idea and predict that in a year I’ll wish I had done it five years ago.”

Meanwhile, Harlowe-Powell’s Pat Powell said he is “very excited” about the prospect of a new company coming into Charlottesville. “It will create a more dynamic marketplace. We’re proud of what we’ve done so far, but all of Virginia will benefit tremendously from the joint venture of Farmer & Quinn’s.”

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