Detective fiction, whether in print or on the screen, is possibly the most popular fiction of all. Think of everything from Agatha Christie to Line of Duty and you get the picture. Like crossword puzzles and treasure hunts, they challenge while entertaining, allowing the reader/viewer to exercise their “leetle grey cells”, as Hercule Poirot would say, as they try to guess whodunnit, as well as how and why, before the denouement reveals all.
In some ways, cataloguing items for auction present the specialist with the same challenge and excitement. The mystery can range from what an item is – we have had a few of those – to who originally owned it and where it came from.
If you consider that the value of an object can be heavily influenced by its past associations, finding out as such as you can becomes a vital task, especially if you are thinking of putting your own possessions up for auction.
In recent years, discovery stories that have made the headlines have often involved an old vase or plate that turns out to be an ancient Chinese rarity worth hundreds of thousands of pounds, if not millions.
One of my favourite stories involved the sale of a piano. Bought by the niece of the woman who had previously owned it for just $25, she discovered that one of the pedals kept sticking. On having it repaired, she found that what was causing the problem was a secret stash of 100 antique baseball cards, which appeared to have been concealed for 80 years – probably hidden by one of the previous owner’s children.
Among the cards was a real rarity of the great Babe Ruth. That card alone later sold for $130,000.
So keep your eyes peeled and get your magnifying glass out.