Well it looks like this week is going to be an interesting one for the antiques diary. I’m off out to Bonham’s in London (I’m actually not sure which branch…) for a book launch and lecture on early C19th Welsh Pottery. Jonathan Gray, a colleague of my wife’s, is an expert on Swansea pots and is launching his new book, “The Cambrian Company, Swansea Pottery in London 1806-1808″ and we have an invitation to the event. He recently launched the book in the US market at Christie’s in New York, which was very well-received.
I have to admit that I’m not very knowledgeable about Welsh Pottery. It’s quite a specialist area of expertise and seemingly very collectible. I have a copy of the book on order, which I will be interested to have a look at. If you’re interested in getting hold of a copy, you will be able to get it online from http://www.cabrianpottery.com at some point in the near future. The website isn’t up and running just yet, so if you’d like a copy, you can always send me a request and I will pass it on to the author… In the meantime, I’ll post a review of the book launch and lecture soon.
Saturday the 4th of February sees another auction at one of my nearby auction houses, P.F. Windibank. I have a couple of pieces of silver in the auction this time, which I’m hoping will do well: a hallmarked George III Silver creamer, which I think is a fine piece of work, and two pieces of Richard Comyns hallmarked silver – an oval tea caddy and a round salt. I’ve been to this auction house quite a few times but only as a buyer. This is really my first proper foray into selling at auction. I say “proper” as I have sold at auction before, but it was only a small piece of pottery which didn’t cost much (and equally didn’t make much!). This is the first time I’ve properly sought to sell something with the express intention of making a profit, so it is my first foray into trading at auction.
Of course, this all sounds very charming and along the lines of the BBC’s Bargain Hunt programme. I think the reality of antique trading at auction is something quite different. For a start, you need to take into account auction fees, which seem to only rarely be mentioned. When buying, you have to account for anywhere between 12.5% and 25% buyers’ premium on top of the hammer price. There is then VAT (currently charged at 20%) charged on the buyer’s premium. When selling, you also pay commission (plus VAT) on the hammer price and there may be a few other costs involved as well. Most auction houses will value your items free of charge, so that needn’t necessarily be something to account for. At Windibank’s there is also a charge for including photos and description of the items on the online catalogue (just a small, flat fee) and a 1% fee of the hammer price to cover for insurance.
Once you include fees, you’ll see that it can be quite difficult to make any profit by buying and selling at auction. I suspect that dealers source their items elsewhere (for example, house clearances) and make their profits by selling directly to their clients, or perhaps retailing to the public. I simply don’t see how you’d be able to make enough profit otherwise. The other issue with selling at auction is that there’s no guarantee what price you’ll receive. The estimates for the two lots which I have put into the auction are realistic, but a lot lower than the price at which I bought them. Having a bit of knowledge about the auction market, I’m confident that they’ll exceed their estimates by quite some way, but there’s no guarantee of that. There’s always a degree of guesswork involved in selling at auction. This being the first auction of the new year, it could go either way; there are fewer silver lots in the auction which could mean that they stand out a little better than usual. Equally, that could mean that fewer buyers are drawn to the auction. Buyers might just be recovering from the financial hangover of Christmas and may be willing to bid, but there may be a few buyers who are still paying off the costs of the holiday season. There are so many variables that it’s difficult to gauge how it’s going to go. I must be bloody insane to be putting my neck out like this!