Lots going under the hammer
- Credit: Archant
The world of auction houses can appear mysterious to some. Liz Chilcott explained to reporter Callum Lawton some of what is involved in buying and selling at Chilcotts.
From an early age, Liz Chilcott has been fascinated with the world of auctions.
As a young girl, she accompanied her mother to local auction houses armed with a fistful of pennies.
Her mother would bid on items to furnish their home – and as a teenager years later, Liz’s passion for the auction world had not diminished.
Among the tall pieces of ornate furniture and pre-loved ornaments lay the real prize - several shoeboxes stuffed with everything from craft supplies to vintage jewellery.
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It was a calculated gamble – but guaranteed a surprise every time.
“I would buy these shoeboxes when I was at art college in Surrey,” Liz recalls.
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“Some would be full of costume jewellery, others would contain jet, paste and wacky brooches.
“I would buy this full shoebox, take out four or five pieces out for myself and dispose of the rest.”
“Later on, when setting up our first home, Duncan and I furnished it from pieces bought in various salerooms.”
Despite her continued attendance at auctions, Liz did not start working in the business immediately – instead stepping into the world of retail as a buyer for Marks and Spencer.
It was only when her husband and business partner, Duncan Chilcott, decided to set up ‘Chilcotts’, that she become involved in the business side of auctions.
“We started Chilcotts Auctioneers & Valuers in 2004,” she says. “At that stage, Duncan was the managing director of Bonhams in Honiton. For several reasons we wanted to give it a go ourselves.
“He brings the expertise and knowledge and I bring the retail side of it.”
We sat down with Liz to ask her some questions on how to get involved with auctions.
How do I get started selling an item?
“The process would be to bring your item of choice in on one of our regular valuation days; there is no charge for appraisal.
“If you like what you hear, you agree to put it up for sale and we will get it into our next appropriate auction.”
However, it’s not just valuation days that sees Chilcotts collect its unique selection of items for sale.
Sometimes the team helps clients selling entire house-contents to discover items of value.
“We will take whatever the customer wants us to sell, if it’s saleable,” Liz says.
“It’s not fair on the customer to take anything we don’t think will sell because they will end up paying charges for putting it through auction and not getting out of it.”
What is your top tip for any auction novice?
“I would choose something you really, really like. And then I would examine that item very closely.
“Inspect it all over to check if you would need to repair it.
“You have to factor in any costs of repair.
“Some people buy at auction because they want to repair things – but sometimes it will add an unexpected cost onto your item.”
So I’ve inspected my item and my heart is set on it – what’s next?
“I would say set yourself a limit – and not go above that limit!
“If you have never attended an auction before, you can talk to the member of staff.
“We know what we are selling and we know about the price – and we are honest about the price.”
Expert knowledge is key in the auction room.
“Say there is a restored piece, Liz says.
“You may not know it, but we can see it was formerly part of a bigger piece of furniture.
“We would give an honest appraisal of what you hope to be buying, so you are completely clear on what you are bidding on.”
I’ve won my lot! Now what do I do?
“Anything bought on the day you can pay for on the day at the desk. You’ll need your buyer number, which is supplied at the start of the auction.
“We use numbered paddles, and the information gets put into the computer.
“Your invoice will also include your buyer number.
“We also have a buyer’s premium of 19.5 per cent – for example, say you bought a clock for £100.
“The buyer’s premium will be £19.50, which will be subject to VAT, meaning you’ll end up paying £123.40.
“This figure is all broken down for you in your invoice, but it’s important to remember the extra charges.
“A lot of people come in who are first-time buyers and we always take them through the buyer’s premium.”
So I know how to sell my items through auction… What is in hot demand right now?
“Silver and gold jewellery is always a strong investment – a lot of people who come to our auctions like the buying certainty of silver and gold.
“Gold coins, chains and jewellery usually do well.
“Another hot pick is ephemera – older journals and photos. For example, we recently sold some old Malayan war photos for £920.
“People like those kind of paper products, its real history.
“Another thing I feel very conflicted about is medals. There’s a big market in medals and we sell them very, very well.
“But I feel personally that all medals should stay with their families.”
Last questions – why auctions over commercial shops?
“With an auction, you never know what you are going to find and you can find some really original, unusual pieces.
“If you want to furnish your home in a way that reflects your own style and interests, you can probably do it more easily through an auction room.
“This is because if you go to a furniture shop, they are following whatever the trend is. I see new furniture all the time – but at auction, you can get some amazing one-off pieces.” n