Antiques Trade Talks – John Nicholson

John Nicholson of John Nicholson AuctioneersJohn Nicholson is the Managing Director and Senior Valuer at John Nicholson Auctioneers in Fernhurst, West Sussex. 

What are the current hot sellers?

Post Brexit, commodity collectables like silver and gold have been doing very well indeed. We have also seen excellent prices for certain areas of fine art, like the original HM Bateman cartoon watercolours and drawings we have sold this year. The best of the 20th century satirical cartoonist, like Bateman, who drew for The Tatler, and Pont, who drew for Punch, are among the next big things.

What antiques do you have at home?

I have always liked Victorian watercolours and drawings, which have been in the doldrums for some years now pricewise, but that makes them less expensive to collect. However, one or two of the most talented are beginning to get a bit more attention, along with the best of the Modern British artists that now do so well.

What piece would you love to sell in the auction room?

I’m waiting to hear whether I will get it at the moment. All I can say is that it is sport related, and if we do secure the consignment, it’s a story that will go nationwide and beyond.

What has been your most exciting sale so far?

Back in 2004 we set the record for anything ever sold at auction outside London in the UK when we sold a family portrait by Francis Hayman (1708-76) for £540,000. Remember, that was largely before internet bidding had taken off, so it was an incredible price at the time. Now the record is in the millions.

Will people go to auction houses in 20 years or will sales all be online?

There’s no doubt that the internet has taken over much of the auction world, and you can’t really operate without it, but I believe there will always be room for the traditional auction room, with people sitting there raising their paddles to bid because they love the experience and sometimes you just have to see and touch items before you buy.

Tell us some trade secrets – what are your top tips for being at an auction?

My first tip is always decide what your upper limit is before bidding. Remember to factor in the buyer’s premium and VAT when doing so. Then stick to that limit. My other tip? Spend as much time at the pre-sale view as you can, because not only will you be able to inspect what you are interested in online or in person, but that is the time you will spot what you might otherwise miss.

Will brown furniture make a comeback?

It’s not as simple as that. In many ways life has moved on, so traditional pieces of furniture that reflected the way we lived decades or centuries ago may no longer have a day-to-day purpose, and so there will be less demand for them apart from being decorative. Other woods, such as dark mahogany, will really struggle in the modern context. On the other hand, Arts & Crafts furniture, pieces by Mouseman Thompson and other early 20th century designers have never gone out of fashion despite being ‘brown’, and continue to be fought over at high prices.

Where are you favourite antique hunting destinations?

That would be telling. Suffice to say that we live in a region that must be the richest source of treasures in the whole of these islands.

Young people don’t like antiques – agree or disagree?

What’s your definition of an antique? Strictly speaking it means an item over 100 years old. Art Nouveau anyone? If you are looking at fairly old collectables, like Art Deco, vintage fashion and so on, young people have pretty much taken over and will continue to do so.

What’s the future for the trade?

It will adapt with the times. Technology means that there are far more ways to do business these days, but you will get nowhere without an ‘eye’ and expertise. It’s a fascinating if challenging world and if you get it right you can make money as well as having a lot of excitement and fun. What people buy and sell will always evolve though.

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