Apr 24, 2018
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.
It’s astonishing to think that the London Marathon taking place in just over a week’s time will be the 38th instalment of this amazing event. It comes just a few weeks after the death of Sir Roger Bannister, the first recorded person to run a mile in under four minutes.
Chris Brasher, the co-founder of the London Marathon back in 1981, had been one of Bannister’s two pacemakers in the landmark event of 1954, and his business interests later led to the foundation of Sweatshop and its sports clothing lines.
Brasher’s son Hugh is now Race Director for the London Marathon, so the sporting tradition continues in the family.
It’s also another event that has spawned a field of collecting, as a brief visit to eBay will show. Prices are still very affordable but the selection of London Marathon finisher medals now on offer shows that the future is bright for collectors of these sometimes quite garish items. Prices have yet to settle, but the long-term trend, as people lose or discard them, means older medals will become more sought after.
While one 1990 medal is currently on offer for £20, another has an asking price of £70. Top asking price is £80 for a 1995 medal, while the lowest is £3.99 for one from last year. It’s early days, but all of this shows the beginnings of an auction market for these pieces
When it comes local celebrities, I can’t think of anyone who stands in higher regard than the late Sir Arthur Conan Doyle whose former home, Undershaw, has now been imaginatively redeveloped to house the excellent Stepping Stones school.
Sir Arthur comes to mind once more because of the announcement in the United States that a handwritten manuscript for one of his best-loved short stories is coming to auction this month.
The Adventure of the Dancing Men is the third of 13 tales from The Return of Sherlock Holmes, dating to 1903-04, after Conan Doyle revived his great detective, following popular demand, having previously killed him off in his fight to the death with Professor Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls.
It’s a memorable story for several reasons, the most notable being the depiction of a cipher, using pictures of stick men, which Holmes has to crack.
The handwritten manuscript contains Conan Doyle’s original corrections as well as the dancing stick men themselves. The author donated the manuscript to charity to be auctioned off in favour of the Red Cross in 1918. The price fetched then is not recorded and, although it clearly sold again, has not appeared at auction for the past 90 years. The estimate now? A cool $500,000.