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Countdown to 50 years since Armstrong walked on the Moon

As I write this, the weather doesn’t look terribly promising for what is being billed as the best Perseid meteor shower in decades tonight. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the clouds will part in time for what is often an exciting spectacle, especially as a new Moon accompanies it, which means that there is very little risk of it outshining the meteors, which can appear at a rate of up to 100 an hour as they streak across Earth’s atmosphere.

Actually, it is the Earth that passes through what is effectively a patch of rubble in space, creating this amazing natural phenomenon each year, but for me, it also acts as a reminder of one of the fastest growing collectible disciplines on the planet: photographs and ephemera linked to the Space programme.

Auction prices have been climbing steadily as the 50th anniversary of the first man on the Moon approaches. Anything to do with NASA missions, from Mercury and Gemini through to the Apollo programmes in the US, culminating in Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin’s famous Apollo 11 mission, come at the top of the list as collectors anticipate July 20 next year, half a century on from the game-changing Moon landing and that Giant Step.

Personally, I would like to have a copy of the 1965 photo Earthrise, the first vision of the Earth as it appeared from behind the Moon, as taken by Bill Anders on December 24, 1968 during the Apollo 8 mission. Examples of that have already made five figures at auction.

I Robot? Not in a million years

Apparently more than six million workers are worried that they could be replaced by robots in the next decade. Should I be worried? After all, fine art and antique auctions have been at the cutting edge of online development over the past 15 years and we can now offer live online and timed auctions, as well as hybrid auctions, to buyers from all over the world from our Fernhurst saleroom these days.

Time was when most bidders would be in the room, with a few on the phone and the odd commission bid, and you’d be lucky to have a range of bidders from the local area, a bit further afield, across the nation and possibly from one or two other countries. Now, thanks to the internet and the focus of technology on the bidding process, bidders from 50 countries is not unknown for a single sale at our auction room on the Surrey/Sussex border.

But replacing the auctioneer with a robot is another issue altogether. People talk about Artificial Intelligence taking over, but, as far as I can see, we’re no closer to real ‘AI’ than we were twenty years ago. You need years of experience and skill to read a room and tickle bids from someone at the other end of a fibre optic cable. Psychology, a sense of theatre and a bit of human nature is what does the trick, not a microchip… and that’s the way it will always be if you want the system to work!


Victorian values can attract a modern taste

It never ceases to amaze me how what are, frankly, in my opinion a series of unattractive daubs flung together in the name of Contemporary art can make millions at auction when highly accomplished and rather beautiful Victorian landscapes can be had for buttons.

I suppose that fashions change and, with them, tastes. Don’t get me wrong, I think a great deal of Modern and Contemporary art has a lot to offer, but it is also rife with mountebanks. However, the flipside of what has been a rather subdued market for late Victorian and Edwardian painting is that you can pick up stunning art for very little indeed.

Just browsing through one of the online auction platforms the other day, I worked out that, with a fair wind behind me, I could fill a whole wall with stunning Victorian and Edwardian watercolours for less than £2000. Some of the pictures looked a bit tired, but closer inspection revealed that they simply needed a new mount and frame, and at these prices this was very much a realistic option.

I have no idea whether art like this will enjoy a renaissance in years to come – although it certainly deserves to – but those cherry picking now will be in the best position to capitalise if it does. And if prices remain in the doldrums, well they will have a fantastic selection of art gracing their walls, which they will never tire of.


From the feathery to the mashie niblick

As Francesco Molinari lifted the famous claret jog at Carnoustie to celebrate his victory at The Open – the first golf major win for an Italian – I recalled once again that this is a sport that hovers close to the top of the collecting table in terms of popularity and values when it comes to memorabilia.

Hickory clubs, rare golf balls and, of course, famous trophies all feature among the top prices at auction, one of the most memorable being Arnold Palmer’s Masters trophy, a rather stunning piece of silverware modelled as a miniature version of the Augusta clubhouse, which went for $444,000 at the appropriately named Green Jacket Auctions in 2016.

While British collectors are very active, the real centre for this field is the US, so it was no surprise when one of the oldest clubs known, a square-toed iron dating to the 1600s, sold from a leading collection for $151,000 at Sotheby’s in New York in 2007. It was designed for use on sandy or stony ground and is one of only half a dozen surviving clubs of a similar age.

Rory McIlroy’s 2014 Open Championship golf ball sold for $52,000 – also at Green Jacket Auctions – beaten only by a signed vintage Bobby Jones ball, which made nearly $56,000 in 2011.

For rare and ancient, the prize for a golf ball goes to an 18th century feathery that took £24,000 in 2004, selling to Jamie Ortiz-Patigos, owner of the Valderama course. The ball was the first ever made by Allan Robertson, one of the best-known early promoters of the game.