You’ll be pleased to know that there are several ways to catch the auctioneer’s attention without having to sit in front of them. The first is leaving what is called a commission or absentee bid. You can pick up the relevant form at the viewing for the sale, fill it in with the maximum you are prepared to pay and register it with the auction house. The auctioneer will then bid on your behalf against other bidders up to the maximum. However, if other bidders give up earlier, you may well get the item for less. For slightly more valuable lots, you may be able to bid over the phone. Again, you need to register before the sale – usually at least 24 hours in advance – and can then bid live on the phone via a member of staff. Make sure you answer the phone when they call you to bid.
Finally, you can bid via the internet, either directly with the auction house or, more usually, via one of the live bidding platforms. Check them out early to understand the process.
I’d still advise visiting the saleroom if you can. A recent buyer at one of our jewellery sales was a first-time bidder who had enjoyed the experience so much that he has now started coming to other sales at Fernhurst.
He is one of those people who likes to come prepared, so he had checked our website for everything from buying conditions, including any fees, to bidding methods. With all this in mind he said that although he had been slightly nervous to start with when it came to bidding, his confidence rose as he had set himself a limit and knew he would not go beyond it. Best of all, he said, was the thrill of securing the lot against competition from other bidders, one of whom was in the room, while others were on the internet.
His experience reinforces two key lessons for auctioneers: have a clear and informative website and make sure you give a warm welcome and excellent service if you want them to keep coming back.
Until the end of October, numerous events celebrate the biggest festival of Asian art in the UK. Centred on the three-week Asian Art in London programme of auctions, gallery exhibitions and museum shows, the focus is on Contemporary and traditional art from China, Japan, India, Cambodia, Vietnam and Korea.
I can’t think of a better opportunity to acquaint yourself with the marvels of this rich Far Eastern heritage, a significant proportion of it pre-dating even the Roman period.
We celebrate these historic traditions in our monthly auctions of Oriental and Islamic works of art, whose catalogues present a microcosm of the art and craftsmanship of the many cultures who come under this banner.
Often, we think of ancient cultures in places such as Egypt, but China was just as developed at the time. Think about the Han (Warring States, c.475-221BC) or Tang dynasties (618-907) with their extraordinary creations in pottery and bronze, a surprising number of which survive today in fine condition.
India and its rich tradition are also part of this mix. I was reminded of this when admiring one of the highlights of our October 17 sale: a fine, possibly 12th century north Indian carved yellow stone torso of a female deity, whose torso is well decorated with beads and jewellery.
Equally impressive was a marvellous piece of Hu porcelain in our timed online auction that ended on October 2: a blue, white and underglaze red porcelain twin-handle vase, decorated with a dragon and the flaming pearl of wisdom. It was a reminder that many of these ancient treasures can be had for reasonable sums. The estimate in this case was just £500-700.
For me, what brings these pieces alive is not just the highly accomplished work that went into creating them, but the thought of the people behind them. Where and how did they live? How did they acquire their skills? What were they like as people? Did they have families and what were the things they dreamed of and worried about? Think of these questions next time your eyes settle on a striking piece of ancient art.
Students have headed back to college, pupils to schools, but there are also a lot of new graduates and school leavers looking to their careers now. Should they consider becoming auctioneers?
Having started at the bottom and worked my up, I have no regrets. I still think the best way in is the traditional one: starting as a porter at one of the larger auction houses, graduating to cataloguing and developing specialist knowledge in your chosen field while studying for a fine arts valuation qualification. There aren’t many courses left around the country, but they are worth doing if this game is for you.
I have also been impressed with the focus and determination of many in their teens and early twenties who have already harnessed the internet to create micro businesses involving buying, selling and collecting. The internet has created new opportunities, such a drop-sales, which simply did not exist before because there was no way of conducting them. Generation Z may be concerned with disciplines that have not played a part in our collecting tradition up till now – trainers, video games and the like – but they still follow the same patterns and rules as art and antique disciplines: rarity, condition etc.
Best of all, this younger generation has not sat in a classroom to be taught this, but has explored this world for itself and understandably has become enthusiastic about it, both because it can be profitable and because it affords the professional a large degree of autonomy.
A lot of the auction business has already gone online and I have no doubt that more will in future. However, I also believe that there will always be brick-and-mortar salerooms for people to visit, view and handle the goods first, particularly at the top end of the market where prices run into the millions. We sell via both channels.
Auctioneering as a career still holds a lot of promise and the chances of setting up your own business and working for yourself in the long term are greater than in most other industries. It’s something you might want to have a think about.
September 4 marks 25 years since the founding of Google in a garage in California. And on September 12, it will be 65 years to the day since Jack Kilby of Texas Instruments demonstrated the world’s first integrated circuit.
Technology now has history, nostalgia and rarity on its side, and is gradually fermenting into a highly active and profitable collecting market.
Retro Tech is expected to have a market base worth $51.7 billion by 2026 – almost equalling the value of the entire global art market, so now is the time to search through the attic and the back of your home office drawers for all your old iPhones, Tamagotchis, Walkmans and early Apple computers. Even basic handheld calculators from the late 1970s are doing well, while one of the most popular models in the retro world of mobile phones is the basic Nokia 3210 from 1999.
Institutions such as the Science Museum in London have started to trace the history of Apple products, from the 1984 pre-production model, Mouse for Apple Macintosh, through the 1993 Apple Newton MessagePad, the 1998 iMac G3 to the 2003 Apple iPod and the 2007 iPhone launch to the 2010 iPad.
The Science Museum has them all and provides a fascinating study of the development of technology and its association to social development over the past 30 years and more.
If this is the attitude that the Science Museum has to these objects – presenting them as museum exhibits – then you can be sure that they will also increasingly make their impact on the world of collecting in years to come. Millions of iPhones may be circulating the globe as we speak, but as they get updated and the defunct ones disappear, eventually only a limited number will be left to become sought-after collectables. The development of mobile phone technology, as they morphed into handheld computers, thereby changing the way the world communicates and interacts socially, has been the biggest game changer of all. Expect it to be a major force at auction as a whole new niche collecting area develops in the future.