Harry’s Ramblings What’s It Worth
by Harry Pope
A couple of years ago a local Eastbourne lady was going to give items to a charity shop. Her friend said ‘try the auction instead.’ They had a look, and when examining her Chinese vase said ‘it may be worth £80 – £120, we can’t be sure’. It went for £85,000.
The trouble is, local auction houses have little idea of the true value, they know that both buyer and seller will be paying them 20%, as well as a fee for the lot to be entered into the auction, so they are on a winner whatever occurs. If they had been more open, they would have informed the lady seller that if an item is worth a lot more, they will negotiate a much lower selling rate, often as low as 5% is it’s going to be worth £85k. Of course, the lady was delighted with what she got, so didn’t bother to try to lessen her commission. She was grateful it achieved what it did, but take my advice, if you’ve got something worth a lot, then don’t be taken for a mug.
Chinese vases are the work of popular folklore, there was another 18th Century porcelain one recently was supposed to go for £500,000 – £700,000. It came from the reign of the Qianlong Emperor, was decorated with lotus flowers and had gold enamelled dragon handles. The French auction house gained much commission when it went for £2.2 million. An American appearing on the US version of the Antique Road Show had purchased a vase for $4.99 in a charity shop. The expert valued it at between $50,000 to $100,000. As far as I know it hasn’t yet reached an auction room.
A resident of Eastern Long Island, New York, had a desk, handed down from generation to generation. I have to ask why they don’t bother looking inside these desks properly, because after close on 250 years the latest owner thought ‘I wonder what’s inside this drawer. Oh look, it’s an original copy of the Declaration of Independence, there are only five known to be in existence, and I will get $1.5million for it at auction.’ Hello, where is your curiosity.
You have always got to hope that your ancestor worked as a projectionist in a now demolished cinema. The building would have been there from the very early silent days, and as a senior citizen they would have retired when it was raised to the ground. You have also got to hope that they had a lovely old house, with a living room carpet sufficiently large for the old cinema posters to be hidden underneath. You have then got to hope that your forebear retrieved from the rubble a poster from 1931 Frankenstein. It occurred once, the relative got $358,000. If only we all had relatives like that.
As far as my own personal buying experiences are concerned, the best I ever did was to buy a box of old comics for £15. There were about 200 of them, no-one bothered to look too closely, but I could see that there were some potentially interesting items. When I got it home, they all went onto the kitchen table so I could collate. From 1966 numbers 1 – 120 of Thunderbirds, all in excellent original condition, sold to a Brighton dealer for over £600. There were others from the same era, which went on e-bay for varying amounts. Eventually the contents of the box which I bought for £15 plus commission went for almost £1,000. On the other hand, my wife was against me buying a set of the 1960 boys magazine Look and Learn, which I paid £75 for. It took me six months to sell, eventually getting £35.
A lady approached me after I had given a talk to her local club. Her brother had passed away, as he had been a collector of Nazi memorabilia she wondered if it had any value. She didn’t know exactly what he had left, but it transpired there were twelve original uniforms, all with insignia, eight hats and helmets, some daggers, and lots of odds and ends including a Death’s Head ring and an Iron Cross first class. She was astounded when I told her it could be in excess of £5,000, a little while later she provided me with photos, which proved their worth. She took my advice, placing them in an auction sale of speciality items, eventually receiving a cheque in excess of £5,500. I did advise her that the auctioneer would be very keen, and she could negotiate a lower commission rate than the usual 20%. Armed with this advice she benefited from a reduced rate of 15%. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
One of the presenters of BBC’s Bargain Hunt is auctioneer Charlie Ross. He tells the tale about standing on his rostrum to sell a wardrobe. ‘Who’ll give me £20.’ Silence. ‘£10.’ Nothing. ‘Who will have this wardrobe for nothing.’ No takers. ‘Okay, will anyone have it if I GIVE them a fiver.’ Not even anyone at that generous offer. ‘Okay, ten pounds to take it away.’ A hand came up, Charlie got his wallet out and handed over a tenner. ‘It has to be taken away by this afternoon.’ You can’t win them all.