Fine Art Auction House Leaving Oak Park

This fall, after a 40-year tenure at Oak Park, Toomey & Co. Auctioneers packs its bags. The auction house merged with Rago/Wright and moved 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 retain its name, and the four houses will work together to share technology, expertise and marketing.

CEO Lucy Toomey, daughter of founder and chairman John Toomey, said now is the time for change.

“We had outgrown our space in Oak Park, and with the trend in the auction world, this decision made sense,” she said.

According to Lucy Toomey, the Oak Park auction house holds four regular auctions each year, each offering around 1,200 lots for sale. Over the past few years, the number of auctions has nearly quadrupled, and this shift to more frequent and smaller auctions has increased their need for resources and their reliance on technology.

The merger also fits into the changing retail environment created by the pandemic.

“The pandemic has really affected things,” Toomey said. “Before the pandemic, we were challenged by the world of immediate gratification, when people expected to order something online and have it the next day. With the pandemic, people were spending more time at home and weren’t spending their money on travel or dining out, they got the auction bug.

Vice President and Senior Specialist John Walcher explained that auction houses like Toomey have not been 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. follows a trend of merging houses, allowing them to share both resources and technology.

John Walcher and Lucy Toomey of Toomey & Co. (Katrina Wittkamp Photography)

“We were looking to upgrade our technology and software anyway, and that made it easier for us,” Walcher said.

The combination allows each house to benefit from the specific orientation of the others. John Toomey established Toomey & Co. as a specialist in the Arts and Crafts movement. David Rago is a pre-eminent authority on decorative ceramics and 20th century East Coast-based design. Richard Wright’s emphasis is on modern design.

As a single entity, the new business will provide better opportunities to buy and sell items from a wider range of eras and movements. Toomey calls joining two established companies “the best of both worlds.”

Additionally, Riley Humler, Toomey & Co. specialist and president of the American Art Pottery Association, will bring his 30 years of expertise in the field of ceramics and pottery to join that of David Rago, who established Rago /Wright as the leading auction house for early 20th century American ceramics and 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 advantage with some of our shippers.”

Richard Wright will remain as CEO of the combined company, which will continue to offer curated auctions of art, design, ceramics, glass, jewelry and timepieces with digital presentations and auction technology from point. Rago/Wright’s first auction with Toomey & Co. is scheduled for Oct. 11 and will feature folk, outsider and autodidact art, as well as Americana.

Rago/Wright Chicago headquarters on Hubbard Street in the West Loop. (Courtesy of Rago/Wright/LAMA/Toomey & Co.)

Toomey says the newly launched website, toomeyco.comis a good entry point into the business, but said talking to customers is still an important part of the business.

“We always love talking to our customers about all their needs and interests,” Toomey said.

Toomey & Co. and their staff continue to migrate to the new Chicago location, and eventually Toomey says his father will be looking to rent or sell the building he owns at 818 North Blvd. at 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 for us.”