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Why I’m a fan of the 18th century Gap Year

Up until the pandemic, many school leavers embarked on what has become known as a Gap Year, prior to going on to university, during which they travelled to broaden the mind, experience other cultures and generally have a good time.

I’m in favour of this idea. When it works well, the 19-year-old who returns tends to be a bit more mature, understanding and appreciative of home, parents and the world around them than the 18-year-old who departed. That can only be a good thing when they are expected to knuckle down to academia once more. Pity those who have to go straight from school to uni on that score.

A rather magnificent pair of pietra dura columns in our January 28 sale reminded me that the Gap Year is no new phenomenon. From around 1660 to the 1840s, we knew it then as the Grand Tour.

A rather more exclusive arrangement available only to the offspring of the truly wealthy, usually when they came of age at 21, could last several years.

This rite of passage tended to take as its theme the rounding off a gentleman’s education by steeping him the classical, neo-classical and Renaissance wonders of Europe, especially in Greece and Italy. I’m quite sure that when these young bucks managed to slip away from their attendant chaperones, they also indulged in more lively activities, but the mementoes they brought home with them in the form of statues, architectural pieces, paintings and objects went on to form some of our nation’s best-known collections. Without them, our tradition of collecting art and antiques would not be what it is today.


Some clarity through the haze of lockdown rules

Lockdown continues to confuse: what are the guidelines for auctions at the moment?

Premises must remain closed to the public but online-only auctions, website sales, ‘click and collect’ and deliveries can still be undertaken. Auction houses and valuers can also offer professional services.

The Society of Fine Art Auctioneers (SOFAA) has received confirmation from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) that art and antiques businesses can continue to trade through the latest alert level 5 national lockdown in England which was announced on January 4.

SOFAA chairman Helen Carless said: “DCMS confirmed auction houses must physically close to visitors but they can offer online-only auctions as they have been able to during both of the previous lockdowns.

“They can also continue to offer probate and other valuations.”

The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy also confirmed to trade paper Antiques Trade Gazette that “tradespeople that have to go to other houses to work can continue as long as they operate in a Covid-secure way”.

Many UK auction houses are adopting a ‘business as usual’ approach and are continuing to conduct sales and accept consignments into auctions to be staged in February and March.

So there you have it: while we cannot welcome you through the doors of our Fernhurst salerooms as we would like, if you want to get something valued, or want to sell it, or want to bid on something, all of this is permitted now under the conditions set out above.

I hope that helps!


Tintin or Batman: who is the greater Superhero?

Comic Cuts, Victor, Valiant, Eagle, The Beano, The Dandy, Whizzer & Chips – these are just some of the weekly comics that entertained youngsters from the 1930s onwards in Britain. Across the Pond in the United States, Action Comics led the way with its first superhero, Superman, in 1938. Copies of the first issue have changed hands at auction for hundreds of thousands of dollars, culminating first in a $1.5 million price in 2010, then a $2.16 million bid in 2011 for a copy owned by the actor Nicolas Cage, and then a $3.21 million bid in 2014. Key to those top prices was the pristine condition of the comics.

This month we have had two more reminders about what an astonishing market this is.

Comic store owner Billy Giles, who died in 2019, had bought a first issue of Batman – published in 1940 – for £2,200 in 1982. Now the all-but mint condition copy has sold at auction for £1.6 million.

Hard to beat? Yes, but Tintin, that great invention by the Belgian author and illustrator Georges Remi, known as Hergé, did just that in the same week.

OK, we’re not actually dealing with like for like here; the Tintin illustration was a framed original gouache, ink and watercolour painting produced for the story The Blue Lotus, the character’s fifth adventure. Nevertheless, in all essentials it relates closely to the Batman comic, especially as it was meant to serve as the cover picture for the story, but was rejected. The price? €3.2m or £2.8m.

So Batman may have more superpowers, but Tintin packs the greater punch.

At 3, Jasmyne has all the makings of a successful auctioneer

Catch them early – that’s what they say. Well, one auctioneer has taken this to heart more than anyone else that I have heard of before as he handed the gavel to his three-year-old daughter.

Jasmyne Sitter took to the rostrum on January 2 in Michigan to close the bidding on an artwork after being lifted up there by her father Jordan, Prinicipal Auctioneer for Park West Gallery.

“Sold” she cried out, clearly delighted with her starring role.

OK, it may have just been a bit of fun, but I’m willing to bet that this moment will prove to be an enduring memory for young Jasmyne and thrilling enough to sow the seeds of curiosity in her father’s choice of career. In another 20 to 25 years, we may well see her conducting the entire auction, and that makes me think of who else might be running the world we love by then.

In other words, what makes a good auctioneer?

Assuming traditional live auctions will continue to take place by then – and I think they will regardless of how much timed online auctions come to dominate – it is certain that any auctioneer worth their salt will still have to be a bit of a showman (or woman). It is not just the art and antiques themselves that attract keen bidding, it is also the sense of occasion and the ability of the Master of Ceremonies (for that is what an auctioneer is) to generate the atmosphere and enthusiasm, to be able to read a crowd and, in keeping proceedings lively and competitive, not to lose sight of bids as they come in.

Jasmyne has plenty of promise; I’m almost certain she’ll be among them.