Bringing down the hammer: What it's like to be an auctioneer
Whether you’re bidding in person or over the telephone or internet there is nothing quite like the excitement of a live auction.
And from valuing items to conducting lively sales, there is also never a dull moment for an auctioneer.
For Ben Gamble every day is a chance to meet people from different walks of life and get up close to all kinds of fascinating and often historical objects.
He is head auctioneer and managing director at Cuttlestones Auctioneers & Valuers, which has sale rooms in both Penkridge and Wolverhampton.
Some 25,000 lots pass through its salerooms each year and the team’s broad knowledge covers areas as diverse as furniture, silver, watches, jewellery, glass, ceramics, militaria, toys, books, maps, paintings, clocks, barometers and general collectables while country house sales are also a speciality.
Ben started his career in the auction industry in 1993 working as an office junior in a mainly agricultural auctioneers.
He has been at the helm since Cuttlestones began in 2008 and manages the day-to-day running of the company.
“As managing director, my role has changed a lot in the past few years. I deal with a lot of office/paperwork tasks but my main focus is on visiting clients, performing valuations and of course the actual auction day,” Ben tells Weekend.
Over the years he says he has built up his expert knowledge on the items he values and sells through “experience and a desire to learn”.
“This business is one that to excel in it you have to enjoy it,”says Ben, who deals with private and professional clients for valuations including those for probate and insurance.
He loves the “pure diversity” of the job which is always taking him to new places.
“I can go from visiting clients in a tower block then a farm in the middle of the countryside, seeing the worst things to the best things on a daily basis,” Ben explains.
The secret to how to excel at the role is having great attention to detail or “the auctioneer’s eye to spot items that may not be obvious to others”, as Ben describes it.
He also believes that having “the ability to talk to different characters from all walks of life” is important when it comes to being a successful auctioneer.
Over the years Ben has handled and sold many varied and wonderful items but there is one special painting that sticks in his memory.
“The best item I have ever sold just happens to be the most expensive item too. A wonderful huge oil on canvas by Thomas Sidney Cooper that we quite honestly found in a passageway between barns. It made in total £60,000.” he tells Weekend.
It’s important for auctioneers to understand what their potential customers are looking for and stay on top of current trends.
“The challenge is an ever-evolving market with items going up and down in value as fashions and demands change. The ability to change the way you work to match the changes in the industry is key,” says Ben.
Since he first started in the industry, there have been many changes especially when it comes to the buying habits of customers.
“I think the biggest change is the desire of the younger generation, typically buyers under the age of 40, to have what they want for their property contents-wise and to have it all now whereas years ago people had to save up, borrow, make do etc.
“This is mainly due to the ease of credit nowadays whereas again years ago you simply could not borrow money to buy contents for your house.”
And one of the biggest changes has come this year as in recent months auction houses around the country have adapted quickly to lockdown by moving their sales all online.
Cuttlestones has done the same as the firm was an early adopter of live online bidding and offered the feature for all of its sales.
“We’re well accustomed to online bidding in our sales – in fact online bids make up a significant proportion of our sales and we ship lots internationally. However, the challenges of Covid-19 and keeping our staff and customers safe have made us take this a step further,”explains Ben.
It held its first ever online-only sale in May, which saw a private coin collection auctioned off to achieve an impressive total in excess of £60,000.
Cuttlestones runs fortnightly Wednesday home and antique auctions online from its Penkridge saleroom and monthly antique and interiors auctions from its Wolverhampton auction room.
The fully illustrated catalogue is available to view online, and bidders can register to bid live and even watch the auction in progress – via easyliveauction.com and thesaleroom.com.
Purchased lots can either be posted or couriered to successful bidders or collection can be arranged by appointment with full social distancing measures in place.
And whether the sale is taking place just online or live in the auction house, there is always a sense of excitement in the air, says Ben.
“It has changed in recent months obviously. It used to be the people in the room and the buzz of an item that sells well particularly if it is a surprise lot. Now it is the different excitement of selling items all around the world via our online platforms,” he explains.
Being an auctioneer is a rewarding career and Ben says he would recommend the profession to others
“What we do is firstly interesting and ever-changing, and also there is the opportunity to handle items that may be hundreds of years old with history and style,” he tells Weekend.
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