Geneseo Genealogy: Local auction house acts as humble treasure trove

Sam Cottone and his son Matt Cottone have served the Geneseo community for nearly nine years as auctioneers through their business Cottone Auctions at 120 Court St.

The family business first launched 29 years ago in Mount Morris when the father and son duo decided to make a business out of their interest in antique and furniture restoration. Matt Cottone explained how he and his father found interest in coordinating auction shows and hoped to one day create and expand an auctioneering business composed almost entirely of high-end merchandise.

The Cottone’s business moved to Geneseo nine years ago. Located just down the hill from campus, Sam Cottone decided to buy and make serious renovations to what used to be an old car dealership. “We moved to Geneseo mainly because we liked the spot here,” Matt Cottone said. “We had a vision of what we could turn the spot into.”

Although the floor at Cottone Auctions is open to anyone who is interested in attending the events, Matt Cottone said that a majority of their sales are done online. “We tried to be specialized rather than just taking everything we can get our hands on to sell,” he said. “That’s kind of how we started things; it’s progressed from there where we sell things to the national and international marketplace right here from Geneseo.”

According to Matt Cottone, a majority of interested bidders now prefer the process of online bidding, so the business had to adapt to the growing demand. Use of the Internet allows for the ability to host thousands of domestic and international inquirers, which has helped the small-town business expand significantly when compared to the relatively small crowds that attend events in person.

Without the help of the Internet, the rural location of their business might seem like a disadvantage. The Cottones, however, have maintained strong relationships with dealers and collectors both inside and outside of Geneseo. Cottone Auctions recently received renowned American artist Gilbert Stuart’s “Portrait of George Washington”—commissioned by the Astor Winthrop Chanler family—from Geneseo residents. 

“There’s a house just down the road—about three miles—where it came from and it brought a little over $1 million,” Matt Cottone said. In combination with Stuart’s reputation as one of America’s most well-known portraitists, the rarity of the painting allowed it to be sold for a considerable sum.

“We knew it would bring in at least hundreds of thousands of dollars, but we were surprised that it brought in a million,” Matt Cottone said.

On top of the revenue gained from the Stuart painting, Sam and Matt Cottone were able to sell their second highest priced piece—a Tiffany Studios magnolia floor lamp—at the same auction for $575,000.

At a more recent auction, Matt and Sam Cottone sold a Virginia Queen Anne tea table for $299,000 for Rochester’s Walter Vogel—a collector and a dealer of merchandise—in February 2015. In March 2013, Cottone Auctions sold a William Wendt painting for $300,000 for its owner—a family in Rochester—who expected to receive only $150,000 from the auction.

According to their website, Cottone Auctions has been selected by several different Rochester museums and galleries to sell to them, including the Memorial Art Gallery, Strong, the George Eastman House, the Rochester Historical Society and the Landmark Society of Western New York.

When 2016 rolls around, Cottone Auctions will celebrate their 30th anniversary. Before then, two upcoming auctions are scheduled for Nov. 13 and 14 with more to follow.