Working as a valuer can be a bit like working as a detective. While most things consigned for auction are instantly recognisable, others are not, and if there’s no paperwork to go with them, you have to rely on your knowledge and wits.
Most of you will have witnessed how experts start to go about deciphering the unknown from watching the Antiques Roadshow. The first thing they will do is look at the item to see if it has/had any apparent function. What is it made from? Are there any identifying marks, as there so often are with porcelain and silver, for instance? Is there a maker’s label? Is there any documentation, no matter how flimsy, that comes with it? Finally, how did it come to be in the consignor’s hands?
Piecing the story together is one of the most fascinating aspects of working in this wonderful business of ours. It can be frustrating but never boring. Sometimes, when you have unpacked all the clues, you find you have a real treasure in your hands.
No matter how long you work as a valuer and auctioneer, there is always another surprise around the corner. The latest was a strange brass instrument with a turning handle identified by a colleague at another auction house as a tobacco shredder.