I have long been curious to find out what the most popular items are that people search for online when it comes to art, antiques and collectables auctions. Now, one of the world’s largest specialist search engines for this sort of thing, Barnebys, has revealed all in its latest annual report, which is being published in the next few weeks.
Looking at the registered search terms for auction alerts – when users set up automatic emails to let them know them that something they are particularly interested in is coming up for auction – it transpires that the most quoted brand name is Rolex. No surprise there, I suppose, nor that leading brand names for watches dominate searches in general, even though most people can’t afford them.
If so, why are so many seeking them out at online auctions? Is it just aspirational? Do they just want to inspect these watches close up and in detail? Or are they hoping to get a bargain? Who can say?
Whatever those reasons are, they must be the same for explaining the other most commonly used brand names in auction alert searches: Picasso, Banksy, Ferrari, Cartier and Tiffany.
All I can say is that I am just as aspirational as these would-be buyers. If I could fill my auctions with all of the above I would be a happy man indeed!
I have written before about the importance of association to the value of objects coming up for auction. Royalty and celebrity associations are perhaps the most obvious; music and sport are others. The appearance of a postcard on the market in Kent in the past week has reminded me of another: notoriety.
The postcard in question is alleged to have been written and sent by Jack The Ripper, the Whitechapel serial killer who struck viciously at the end of the 1880s, killing five women in a matter of about ten weeks before disappearing, never to be heard of again.
There have been other murderers, but none has captured the public’s imagination like Jack, so interest in anything associated with him is inevitable among some collectors, especially those who retain hopes of unmasking him, none more so than the crime writer Patricia Cornwell, who has spent several million pounds, concluding that the guilty party was the well-known painter Walter Sickert.
The postcard now up for sale, sent to the police station Ealing on October 28, 1888, promises to kill two unnamed women and arrived at its destination 11 days before the murder of Mary Kelly.
With an estimate of £600-900, it clearly has a great deal more value than an ordinary postcard of the era. If any doubt about the Ripper’s authorship could be removed, I suspect you could add another zero to the price.
One of the most unusual auctions I have come across took place last weekend at a hotel next to Heathrow Airport. The venue was appropriate because it was the first in a series of sales to dispose of the entire contents of Terminal 1, from the huge sign on the outside of the building to the baggage carousels inside.
This sale focused on the collectables – signs, artwork and so on – while later sales will deal with the big stuff, including lifts and even travelators.
Apart from the unique nature of the auction (I cannot remember an airport terminal’s entire contents ever coming up before), it was fascinating for various reasons. Firstly, the auctioneers published no estimates because the lack of precedent meant they had very little to go on to establish potential values. With no reserves either, that meant taking a pretty big risk of selling off everything on the cheap. Secondly, it was not clear who, apart from aviation enthusiasts, might want to buy.
In the end, none of this mattered as the first lot, a fairly ordinary Terminal 1 sign, went for £1200, and it went on from there until they had taken hundreds of thousands. Publicity around the sale made it clear that the general public, businesses, entertainment venues and others were all vying for lots. It was quite a day.
This Saturday, April 21, will be Her Majesty The Queen’s 92nd birthday. She is already this nation’s longest serving monarch and it is no surprise to me that recent newspaper reports have been discussing her suitability as a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize thanks to the unparalleled role she has played over the years in promoting world peace and general harmony through The Commonwealth.
The Queen is also unique when it comes to the art, antiques and auction market because of her role in influencing so many different fields of collecting.
Whether it is the various issues of stamps and coins, jubilee and Royal Wedding wares, or the occasional more personal item, such as letters, signed photographs and gifts, nothing appeals to bidders more than a direct Royal connection, with anything associated with Her Majesty at the forefront of desirable items.
Perhaps the most personal items that have come up for sale in recent years are the clothes and toys that were offered in September 2017 from the estate of former royal nurse Clara Knight, who looked after the Queen and Princess Margaret when they were babies and toddlers. Dolls, Mickey and Minnie Mouse figures, dresses and other clothing recaptured a moment from a more innocent time before the abdication, when the then Princess Elizabeth had no idea that one day she would take the throne. Fate played its hand and we are now in the second great Elizabethan age.