Antiques: why unexpected objects can attract the most value
Tim Blyth of Keys Auctioneers and Valuers says that sometimes the most unexpected items turn out to be very valuable.
Those lucky people who have paintings of Seago or Munnings hanging on their walls, or whose display cases are filled with exquisite tea sets from Dresden, or whose shelves house rare first editions, are generally well aware of the value of their goods. When such items go under the hammer in the auction room, there is always a thrill, but no one is particularly surprised when they are making a lot of money.
But perhaps the most satisfying occasions for auctioneers are when something the seller considers trivial attracts frantic auctions and hits a hammer price well above expectations – and you’d be surprised how often. which this is happening.
Each antique dealer and auctioneer will tell you the apocryphal story of the guy whose dog has been drinking for years from a bowl that turns out to be from the Ming Dynasty. But as ridiculous as this urban myth may seem, it is very much anchored in reality.
Last week we sold a wooden “bench” at our monthly Antiques and Home Sale. Bidders may have been slightly surprised to see a large oil stain on the seat; this is because the owner had used it as a tool bench in his garage, believing it to be commonplace and inexpensive piece of furniture. Luckily for him, an expert from Keys spotted him when it was a 19th century elm colony; even with the oil stain it sold for £ 3,200.
What looked like a few ornate but old cigarette boxes on Monday sold for £ 1,000, after we identified them as Chinese calligraphy boxes, much to the seller’s surprise and delight.
And in this month’s photo sale, a pencil drawing of a deer, picked up by the seller from a charity shop, sold for £ 900 after our photos manager was able to attribute it to Alfred Munnings.
Perhaps the biggest surprise (to the seller, at least) came a few years ago, when a box of books was brought in by someone cleaning their late father’s house. Most of the books were of little value, but hidden away was a volume of Norfolk Broads photographs from the Victorian era.
Lucky for the seller, our expert immediately spotted it as a very rare copy of Life and Landscape on the Norfolk Broads by Peter Henry Emerson – which sold for £ 66,000.
You wonder how many of these hidden gems just don’t make it to the auction house. I know of an occasion where someone threw an entire box of printed advertising for vintage tractors into a dumpster, believing them to be worthless. If they had been saved from pulping, they would have brought in a five-figure sum.
The lesson here is that even the most mundane item could have the potential to be a featured lot in the auction room. Too many people take the easy option of allowing clearing agents to take it all away, without consulting experts on its true value. As you can see, this could be a costly mistake.
Full details of all upcoming auctions from Keys Auctioneers and Valuers are available at www.keysauctions.co.uk.