The pandemic has changed auctions forever - and increased demand for beautiful objects

Posted on 29/03/2021 in Press Coverage

In March 2020 I was stunned, forlorn and wondering what on earth the future held for us all, writes Charles Hanson.

The first lockdown closed my auction business overnight, one I had battled tooth and nail to build from scratch. I opened my first saleroom in Etwall, near Derby, in 2005, expanded to London in 2018 and purchased Bishton Hall in Staffordshire in 2018.

Like everyone else across the nation – and the world – I was shaken by the enormity of the events, and it was hard to know what to do. I am used to working flat out, sometimes seven day a week. I juggle day-to-day business demands with client home visits, TV work, talks and charity auctions. My diary was always full – a little too full some might say. But I loved it. Suddenly, life as we knew it ground to an abrupt halt.

With my business closed temporarily and every date in my diary postponed, I decided to do something to help. On April 3, 2020 I broadcast a live charity auction from my Derbyshire garden shed to raise money for the NHS. It brought in £36,000. That night seems like a distant dream but stands out as one of the best moments of my life. It was my way of doing something to help at a time of desperate need.

A year later, the UK is still in lockdown but, thankfully, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Our vaccination programme is forging ahead and, though the future is uncertain, we have turned a corner.

I know many people have been hit by this terrible illness on both a personal and business level and my heart goes out to them all, particularly if they have lost a loved one to Covid-19.

Though it’s a drop in the ocean, I like to think that in some small way Hansons has helped lift people a little during this pandemic. When our sales relaunched - online-only – in May 2020, people were able to buy and sell again and, once Covid regulations eased, we offered our full range of services, albeit with safety rules in place. Masks, hand-sanitiser and social distancing became the norm.

Then new positives started to emerge – like the fact that lockdown had given people time to clear out rooms, attics and garages. Hansons discovered the lockdown find of 2020 – a Chinese wine ewer found in agarage in Swadlincote, South Derbyshire. It sold for £390,000.

In addition, we noticed intense buyer demand – for everything. White-glove sales – that’s when every lot sells - and record prices were being achieved. That’s still the case. I have never witnessed anything like it.

With little to do in lockdown, new clients discovered the joy of auctions because they could bid, browse and buy online. I’m happy to report that auctions, one of the oldest businesses known to man, have a very secure future. The first recorded auction-esque activity was back in 500 BC in Greece, where women were auctioned off by their families as brides. The Romans were keen advocates of auctions, too, regularly selling off the spoils of war or the assets of debtors.

Today’s auctions have come a long way since then, and the pandemic has speeded up change. We have embraced new technology like never before and utilised Skype, WhatsApp and Zoom. Virtual valuations are here to stay, we have reached out to clients in new ways and our in-house postage department has gone from strength to strength.

Meanwhile, we continue to sell everything and anything from general antiques, collectables, furniture and artwork to jewellery, silver, toys, medals, militaria and metal detecting finds. Whether you want to buy a rare bottle of whisky or a Harry Corbett Sooty puppet, we can oblige. Eclectic, fascinating, call it what you like, it’s a fascinating world that attracts thousands of buyers and sellers.

So, have you discovered anything in lockdown? Entries are invited for our April Fine Art, Toy and Antiques and Collectors sales. To inspire you, top lots in our March sales included lot 3017, a signed painting by George Turner (British, 1843-1910), entitled On the Lledr, North Wales, which made £3,000. Then there was lot 3003, two signed oils on canvas by Doele-John (1906-1993) which made £1,350.

Demand for all types of gold, silver and jewellery is sky high and top sellers included lot 231, an unmarked textured link chain which made £1,600; lot 233, a 9ct rose gold belcher link watch chain, £1,600; lot 139, an 18ct gold diamond cluster ring, £1,500, and lot 185, a Victorian/Edwardian diamond set 15ct gold brooch, £950.

A favourite find was lot 3155, a Roman terracotta Amphora vase - found in the Mediterranean – which sold for £1,500. Still on a ceramics theme, lot 1174, an extensive 12-piece Wedgwood Gold Florentine dinner service made £1,200 and lot 1054, a Royal Crown Derby barrel top and ledge gold stopper gypsy wagons, reached £1,050.

The auction world has changed forever due to the pandemic but one thing will never change - people will always want to buy beautiful or unusual objects. May I wish you all a happy Easter.

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