Thursday, 27 July 2006

Antiques for sale: but how do you get the best prices?

by Christopher Proudlove©
There's a sudden death in the family and whilst it is inevitable, it's still devastating. But there are practicalities to deal with, most importantly security issues surrounding a house full of possessions now standing empty. Thankfully, there was a will, and special things have been bequeathed to relatives for whom they have a special meaning.

Executors face the task of dealing with the remainder of the contents and the house must be put on the market. It's a well-kept home, and in a rising market, a buyer soon comes forward. It all starts to move frighteningly quickly. The buyer wants to complete quickly but the house is still full of a lifetime's accumulation of furniture, furnishings, knickknacks and general detritus that no one really wants.

So what to do? In the end, and with the completion date looming, the family decision is to send the lot to the local auction house and let it take its chance.

And then there's the other scenario. After years of collecting, you decide that in order to carry on, some of it simply must be sold. In the event, it proves hard enough just deciding what you're prepared to part with, but go it must. Problem is, it's all highly specialised and not everyone's cup of tea. And anyway, why should you pay auctioneers' commission when you're perfectly capable of taking it to a car boot sale and selling it yourself? You've bought enough that way, so why not try your hand at selling?

We speak from personal experience of both situations and we made mistakes -- all of them costly -- each time. This week's column is prompted by the experiences of a [North Wales] reader who was also left counting the cost of making the wrong decision about how to deal with the sale of unwanted property.

When we chose to take the remaining contents of our relative's home to the local saleroom, we felt we had no option. He was a great fan of Models of Yesteryear miniature cars, which were still in their original boxes; Franklin Mint limited edition "collectables"; Bradford Exchange plates and other such knickknacks that were relatively expensive when they were purchased but worth very little second-hand.

Auction checklist:
*Be informed - read and understand the conditions of business
*Be prepared - get a valuation first
*Be sensible - listen to the auctioneer's advice
*Be realistic - set achievable reserve prices
*Be thrilled - there is no upper limit to prices auctions can achieve

Of course, we could have boxed it all up along with all the domestic chattels we found and taken it to a weekend car boot sale, where we might have been able to sell it for at least reasonable prices. But where was it all going to go? Our own house is already stuffed with junk and anyway, it was winter, and the car boot sale season was months away. Perhaps we should have stalled on completing the house sale but that could have cost us a buyer.

No, we had no choice. It had to go to the saleroom. Yes, we knew we would be lucky if it sold for anything like reasonable amounts. We also thought we knew the saleroom. We had been buyers there years before and thought we knew the system. But things change. What we didn't realise, until we got the settlement cheque, was that the saleroom now levies a minimum lot charge, plus something euphemistically called a "lotting charge".

The former seems fair enough in these days of high labour costs and other spiralling overheads. The idea is that if you charge the seller a set fee per lot -- it can vary between say £5 for chattels and £25 for cars -- designed to discourage people consigning low value items for sale. Some salerooms levy the charge regardless of the selling price and charge nothing further, while others shift the charge to a percentage of the selling price should the minimum sum be exceeded. Commission charges can range from as low as 5% to as high as 20%. And don't forget the 17.5% VAT, which is payable on the commission.

The lotting charge -- made by the saleroom for simply going through the property, deciding on what should be sold with what, sticking lot numbers on it and describing it in the catalogue -- seems particularly harsh. In our own case, we had got hold of some cardboard boxes and put into each of them the stuff we thought should make up each lot, so in effect, the work was done. The auctioneer didn't see it like that and charged us for having his porters do it again (it was not a catalogued sale).

Needless to say, the final settlement cheque was a fraction of what we were expecting and in an already somewhat emotional state about the entire experience, it was all very annoying.

Our car boot sale blunder was much simpler to explain. Decades ago we somehow acquired a cardboard shop advertising sign for Scotch whisky. It was probably Edwardian and was decorated appropriately enough with a rather imposing chappy in full Highland kit standing in front of a castle.

We sold it, from memory, for £15 and thought we'd done rather well since we knew that such things had become collectable. Imagine our dismay then when by chance we saw it (or at least its identical twin) had sold in a specialist auction for £250. The dealer had recognised it for what it was, a rare depiction of Bonnie Prince Charlie used in advertising, standing with his father's standard having raised an army to successfully march on the city of Edinburgh. Embarrassed at my error of judgement, this is a story I share only with my close friends.

The reader who wrote to me had had a similarly rough time of it. An avid "Flog It! watcher and a collector for 30 years, she thought she would have a clear-out. With some hefty household bills on the horizon, she needed to raise some money and thought the saleroom route was her best solution.

She contacted the auctioneer who duly sent her an entry form which included the saleroom's conditions of business. It wasn't easy for her to reach the decision to part with things to which she had become emotionally attached over the years but needs must. With some help from a heavy box-lifter she piled around 200 objects into the back of her campervan and set out on the lengthy journey to the sale.
Car boot checklist:
*Be informed - know the value of the stuff you're selling
*Be prepared - label everything with prices beforehand
*Be sensible - bargain-hunters expect to haggle prices down
*Be realistic - you won't sell everything first time out
*Be thrilled - you got hard cash for the stuff the auction house turned away
She had taken the precaution of listing everything for sale and had selected five things of particular importance to her on which she placed reserves -- prices that she had decided they would not be sold for less. Her arrival at the saleroom was not what she had anticipated. She saw a general valuer who made it clear that her treasures were not as valuable -- or as saleable -- as she had hoped.

If the collection had to be sold, the recommendation was that everything should be offered without reserve and in sizeable job lots lumping together disparate objects, none of which the auctioneer really wanted in his sale in the first place. The result was disappointingly poor from a financial point of view and both distressing and upsetting. Instead of the couple of hundred pounds she anticipated, her goods sold for a total of £24, from which £15 was deducted in auctioneer's commission, leaving her with a cheque for just £9.

So, what went wrong? And was the auctioneer negligent?

In simple terms the saleroom was not the place to sell. Quite clearly the stuff would have fetched better prices at a car boot sale. And no, the auctioneer was not guilty. He did everything by the book and obtained the best prices he could on the day. Could the upset to his client have been avoided? Possibly.

Had she read and understood the conditions of business, she might have known the saleroom levied a £5 charge on each lot it sells. Had she realised the significance of selling without reserve, she might still have had the option to take her possessions to the car boot sale. Signing up to the idea of selling without the protection of a fixed reserve price meant that any final bid, however low it might be, would be sufficient for the auctioneer to sell the lot. She would be the only loser.

Most salerooms around the country run weekly valuation days at which members of the public can take collections of objects for a free valuation which is given without obligation on either side. My advice is to take advantage of that service, then you'll be in a better position to make an informed judgment: auction excitement or car boot sale challenge.

Send stuff to the auction and my advice is never leave anything for sale without agreeing a fixed reserve with the auctioneer. If he sells it for less, he'll be obliged to pay you the difference.

WriteAntiques is happy to provide readers with free, impartial advice on how best to sell antiques and works of art. Email WriteAntiques "at"

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© 2006 All Rights Reserved.


Monday, 17 July 2006

Christie’s sale of the centuries - great houses give up their secrets

Important antiques and works of art from four great private houses are expected to raise more than £1 million in a two-day auction later this month.

International fine art auctioneers Christie's will sell more than 800 lots in a marquee at Gyrn Castle, Llanasa, North Wales, the country house home of prominent 19th century Liverpool ship owner Sir Edward Bates.
Click here to see a slideshow of the four properties and some of the objects up for sale
The sale, on July 17 and 18, follows the recent death of his descendant Sir Geoffrey Bates, the fifth baronet. The house and its 367-acre estate are alson on the market, either as a whole or up to 10 lots. Estate agents Strutt & Parker have issued a £3.5 million guide price.

Gyrn has the lion's share of the sale with around 450 lots, but property from two other historic Welsh houses will also be sold: Nantlys Hall, a Victorian mansion at Tremeirchion, which is also on the market, and Mostyn Hall, which overlooks the Dee above Mostyn village, Flintshire.

Other objects in the sale are from the attics of Capesthorne Hall, the South Cheshire home of the Bromley-Davenport family who in October last year sold Greek vases and antiquities in a £1.5 million sale at Christie's in London.

Most controversially, the sale will see the dispersal of The Gyrn Apostles, an unusual and rare group of late 15th or early 16th century carved wooden figures, each of which stands about two feet high.

Christ and seven of the figures, either Welsh or English, have been at Gyrn since at least 1831 and were in place when the property was acquired by Sir Edward in 1856. They are estimated at £15,000-25,000.

Four further Netherlandish examples, depicting respectively Matthew, Peter, James and Bartholomew, will be sold individually with estimates ranging from £2,000-6,000, potentially upsetting those who believe the group should be kept together.

The Gyrn collection reflects the opulence enjoyed by the successful Victorian ship-owner, politician and successive generations of the wealthy family. It includes both early oak and good Georgian mahogany; porcelain; fine oil paintings; silver; sporting trophies and collectors' items. They will be sold throughout the first of the two-day sale.

Nantlys was built in the early 1870s for a branch of the great Welsh antiquarian family of Pennant. About 75 lots include, notably a strong group of family silver such as a Victorian soup tureen by John Samuel Hunt, which is estimated at £3,000-5,000, as is an imposing 18th-century English School portrait of Peter Pennant (c1664-1736) who was the High Sheriff of Merionethshire in 1674, Flintshire in 1675 and Caernarvonshire in 1676.

Nantlys furniture includes a set of 14 George III mahogany dining chairs estimated at £15,000-20,000, while a fine mid-Victorian gilt wood table topped with specimen marble is estimated at £15,000-25,000.

Among around 100 lots in the sale are from the attic rooms at Mostyn Hall. A late 17th century Dutch old master oil painting of a frozen river landscape is estimated at £3,000-4,000 and an early George III mahogany writing table is estimated at £5,000-8,000.

A rhinoceros trophy estimated at £500-1,000 is among the more unusual items in the sale.

Among the treasures from Capesthorne Hall are paintings collected in the 18th century by members of the Bromley-Davenport family making the Grand Tour; Regency furniture and arms and armour including an early 17th century English Pikeman's armour, circa 1640 estimated at £3,000-3,500.

The sale will be on view at Gyrn Castle next Friday and Saturday, July 14 and 15, from 10am to 6pm, and on Sunday 16 July from 10am to 4pm. A catalogue of the contents, priced £16 at the door, £20 by post, admits two to the view and subsequent sale

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Gardening antiques: you don’t need green fingers for this growth investment

watering cans
by Christopher Proudlove©
It was not one of my finest moments. Out at a weekend car boot sale, I spotted a galvanised vintage watering can, not unlike the ones illustrated in my 1926 Army and Navy mail order catalogue. A snip at a quid, it was mine and once home, I was eager to try it out. Sadly, a split in its base, concealed by the way it was made, meant more water gushed from the bottom than it did from the spout. No matter, it makes a lovely ornament on the patio.

In contrast, one of my best auction bargains was a vintage lawnmower, circa 1910. It was a beautiful, ornate cast-iron work of art. It was also in full working order, but I never actually used it in anger – a combination of it being too precious to get wet and it requiring too much effort to push across the lawn meant it led a charmed life while in my possession! It cost me £15 and if I'd had the space to have kept it, I would have done so.

I know someone who collects lawnmowers and I can quite see why. They are truly wondrous contraptions. In fact, interest in gardening antiques is growing fast (pardon the pun). So, while you browse around the garden centre looking for that perfect plant or accessory, why not give some thought to nurturing a collection of your own?

An engineer named Edwin Budding invented the lawnmower in 1830 and it ranks as one of the greatest inventions of all time, specially if you take into account its benefit to gardeners who previously had to rely on the scythe. However, any invention can be improved upon and Budding's was no exception. Shanks of Arbroath; Ransomes of Ipswich and Green of Leeds all added their own innovations so that Budding’s original simple gear-driven gismo was soon overtaken by chain-driven limos of the lawn.

Towards the end of the 19th century, competition ensured prices were competitive and almost anyone who wanted a lawn could afford to maintain it. Almost inevitably, the Victorians tried to harness steam to power their mowers but these were quickly superseded by petrol power.

Of course, not everyone has the room to display a collection of lawnmowers, but not everything needs take up so much space. Take watering cans, for example. While most of us have moved on to the plastic variety, pause for a moment’s admiration of the 17th century thumb-operated earthenware version with perforated base.

In the 18th century, brass and copper versions took over from pot examples and in the early 19th century, tinplate cans, often painted red or green were in use. Even relatively modern galvanised cans make an interesting display when examples of various sizes, shapes and purpose are grouped together.

I don’t pretend to be a gardener – it’s too much like hard work for my liking. But I do have favourite garden-related collectables and they relate to planting seeds and seedlings and protecting them once they start to thrive.

Charming handlights, or hand glasses as they were called in the 19th century, shaped like little houses with removable lids; cloches or bell glasses; forcing and blanching pots for rhubarb and sea-kale and – best of all – glass cucumber straighteners and grape storage bottles all fit into this category.

Victorian novelties

No, these have nothing to do with the latest EU directives on fruit and veg. They are Victorian novelties, which today would make wonderful conversation pieces in anyone’s collection, gardener or not. Be warned, though: the obvious vulnerability of glass garden items makes them quite rare and, therefore, valuable.

Cucumber straighteners look like elongated glass bottles, the neck of which, when in use, was tied by string to a vine support. The young fruit was enclosed in the straightener and was thus forced to grow straight. Grape bottles, meanwhile, look a little like early baby bottles. The most common is the Copped Hall patent bottle, made by Wood & Son. In use, a section of vine that included a bunch of grapes was placed in the neck of the bottle, which was then filled with water and charcoal. The result was perfectly purified grapes.

If all this is too flippant for you, the serious collector has about 200 years of decorative garden antiques to which he or she can turn his attention. You’ll be spoilt for choice. There’s fountains, urns, sundials, staddle stones, birdbaths and jardinières; furniture made from stone, marble, cast iron, notably the famous Coalbrookdale products, and even garden gnomes, some of which do qualify as antiques.

Pictures show, top:
A page from my 1926 Army and Navy catalogue showing the variety of watering cans that were available to ship anywhere in the Empire. Prices start from three shillings (15 pence)

Below, left:
Tools of the trade: vintage lawnmowers, wheelbarrows, watering cans and even garden tools continue to give good service but they also make a charming collection and amusing conversation piece – even if you don’t have a garden

Weird Victorian tools, plant markers and Keep off the Grass signs might be redundant in these days of decking and postage stamp size gardens, but they are no less collectable

keep off the grass wheelbarrow

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© 2006 All Rights Reserved.


eBay Motors set to go head to head with newspapers over classified ads

The leeching of advertising spend away from newspapers and magazines to the Internet looks set to move up a gear with a plan by eBay to invite traders to post classified ads on eBay Motors. For £150 a month, garages and dealers will be able to list up to 100 cars on the site - a fraction of the cost of traditional printed ads. Handy - if you can afford the petrol. Pip pip.


Thursday, 13 July 2006

Poor eBay: does anyone know who’s in charge?

Pity poor eBay - it's grown so huge, no one seems to be in control. Like a giant megalithic blob, it flops one way then another, leaving customers bewidered. Word on the wires is that within days of deciding it would longer accept payment from Nochex - a move that caused thousands of power sellers to scramble to re-write their listings or face a lifetime ban - the eBay suits changed their minds. Nochex is back in favour and the panic is over. I wonder how long it will be before eBay backs down and starts to accept rival Google's checkout syste, Time will tell.
Pip pip.


Wednesday, 12 July 2006

Christie’s play leapfrog with Internet first

International auctioneers Christie’s crept up quietly and stole a march on their rivals today by announcing the introduction of live Internet-based bidding for some of their sales.
Nothing new there, you might say, but Christie’s have chosen to protect their brand and have developed their own version of the technology instead of falling in with such providers as eBay Live, Live Auctioneers and others.
The big news, however, is that Christie’s version includes both sound and video from the saleroom – features that leapfrog over their competitors and potentially provide a far more compelling programme. A demo version can be seen here.

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