Collectors are interested in oddest things
Frighteningly quickly, we are heading to the time of year when a bit of extra cash comes in very handy and so, with the Christmas auctions in mind, we this week take a look at the current trends in the antiques and collectables market. What's hot – and worth selling – and what's not.
Generally speaking, the serious demand continues to be for real quality. Top notch items, which are rare or unusual or desirable, are selling strongly. On the other hand the mediocre or commonplace are still struggling. They do sell but not at prices that would have you writing home.
The obvious exceptions to this are gold, jewellery and silver. Precious metal prices remain extremely high and that is having a major knock-on effect in the saleroom.
All of this year's auctions have seen sizeable gold and jewellery sections as people take advantage of the situation to thin out unworn or unwanted pieces that have been cluttering up drawers, cupboards and jewellery boxes for as long as they can remember.
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The range of items that have gone under the hammer has been enormous, from the small, worn and broken through to really serious gems valued at multiple-thousands of pounds. This week's auction at the rooms even saw a diamond-studded tiara gracing the catalogue.
One upcoming auction in the rooms already includes a three-stone diamond ring and matching diamond stud earrings that were recently given an insurance valuation of £17,500.
The high world gold price means that, in this department, even the mediocre is making pretty good money. The ring or bracelet may be worn or broken but it is at least going to make scrap value.
That is, however, just the start. At auction, anything that's pretty or unusual or interesting is going to make more than the basic value of the materials. In some cases a very great deal more.
So jewellery, watches, gold coins and silver are the obvious starting point for any potential vendor looking to raise some money, but there are other fields to consider ... and they tend to provide the saleroom surprises.
Collecting, in its myriad forms, goes from strength to strength. Again, quality and rarity are important, married here to condition.
One of the early shocks of the year in the rooms involved a poster advertising the ales of the 19th century Norwich brewery Steward Patteson Finch & Co.
The pre-sale estimate of under a hundred pounds was left behind in around two seconds flat as bidders in the room, and on the phone, went at it ... and kept going. The hammer finally went down at £840, the lot knocked down to a telephone bidder.
The result was down to rarity, allied to the fact that it could be dated to the 19th century and the fact that the image was attractive.
It does also underline just how much interest there is in posters, breweriana, and commercial memorabilia – and how important it is to get an expert opinion when in doubt.
How many people would, I wonder, have dumped the old poster had they come across it during a spring clean of the attics?
Incidentally, the same auction saw a boudoir grand piano once owned by Dame Emma Albani – one of the greatest international opera stars of the late 19th century – struggle to make a very modest reserve. It was eventually sold for £300.
So, a pub poster makes £850 and a grand piano makes £300. Shows how unexpected things can be.
In terms of raising cash, the ceramics department is a bit like the parson's egg, good in parts. The best pots are turning in some decent results but interest in things like traditional tea wares, even attractive examples with a bit of age to them, is quite low.
Demand for antique Chinese ceramics and collectables has gone through the roof in the past few years and it remains buoyant. We have seen pieces make ten times pre-sale expectations as Internet bidders from the Far East got stuck in.
The last thing I would say to potential vendors is to think Christmas. Sales at this time of year do attract people looking to buy unusual seasonal gifts, so anything that falls into that category is likely to do well.
The team will be valuing ... and accepting entries ... at the weekly antiques clinics at the Angel Suite in Brigg on Thursday mornings and at the auction centre in Scunthorpe on Friday mornings. Preliminary opinions on larger pieces can be done via the aid of photographs.