We humans are a versatile and innovative lot. With no end in sight to the lockdown, we have all been looking at ways to help the needy as well as prepare for the return to work properly when the time comes. I have been very impressed with the way some of my colleagues in the world of fine art and antique auctions have adapted their practices to keep going – one even conducted a major auction live online from his dining room table.
It is also clear to me that when we do all get back to normal, some of the innovations we have been hesitating over for a while now will be quickly adopted as they have been tested under duress and found to be more than workable.
A common theme during lockdown has been the charity auction in aid of the NHS. I have no idea how much money will be raised to support nurses and doctors as they fight on the front line, but I’m sure you will join me in wishing them all the best and perhaps dipping into your pockets to bid for this great cause. As my own circumstances prevent me from arranging an auction of this type myself, I intend to add my bids to the efforts of others.
Technology has eased the strain of the pandemic to a great degree, in my opinion. Social media, for all its problems with trolling and the like, has also provided us with a great deal of creative amusement as people go online with gallows humour to entertain us with jokes and spoof videos.
For those isolating indoors miles from their loved ones – be it aged parents or adult children – video apps like FaceTime allow for the sort of personal connection that would have been unthinkable if this crisis had happened just a few years ago. So, with all the challenges we currently face, from grocery shortages to maintaining mental wellbeing, we must count our blessings and stay strong.
I have been using the time to think about all the great auctions we will be able to stage once this period of incarceration is over, especially as it is apparent that with people stuck inside, many of them are spending their time decluttering and going through the treasures in their attics. I’d like to think that I and my team will be able to play a part in rewarding them for their efforts by making sure that whatever they decided to consign for sale as a result achieves a decent price. Thinking positively definitely helps.
A week on from when things started to get really serious in the UK, a number of auctioneers who were on tenterhooks have now mopped the anxious sweat from their brow – for the time being at least.
Why? Because, like me, in the past few days they have held long planned sales that could well have tanked. Instead, an extraordinary thing happened. Bidders logged on from all over the world – including from countries like Italy and China where lockdown has been in place for a while.
I’m not saying everything sold, but a lot more than we could have hoped for did, and the better quality items sold well. Some jewellery went for multiple-estimate prices and one auction house even set a record for a particular type of ceramic.
So what’s happening here?
It would seem that those without money worries who now have few outlets to express themselves have taken a greater interest in our world and reacted accordingly. This is not just good news for me; it is good news for those who work with me and it is good news for you too. Why? Because it shows that even in our darkest hour, we can find a way to keep going.
Who knows what will happen in the next week and months? But one thing is certain: the resilience and inventiveness of human nature is a marvel to behold.
With all the drama of the news at the moment, businesses have had to take some difficult decisions about staying open and carrying on as usual. Like everyone else, we have been monitoring the situation closely as the safety of staff and clients comes before everything else. Who knows how things will have developed by the time you read this.
It’s a time to reflect on the importance of human contact, even in this digital age when, for instance, more than half the people who bid at auction now do so online.
In the past ten years we have seen sales affected by snowstorms and ice, while others have been badly affected by floods several times, including in the past few weeks. However, this is the first time in my 60 years in the business that something like a pandemic has intervened.
Once this threat is lifted, it will be interesting to see what has changed for good and what will revert to the way it was before. No matter how technology progresses, in my view auctions will only flourish in the long term with some form of face-to-face contact. Other aspects of business and day-to-day life are less predictable.
As this crisis teaches us, the challenges ahead are sometimes unexpected, but we will adapt because whatever else changes, or basic values remain the same.