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A day in the life of an auctioneer

Tuesday 11 April 2017

We go behind the scenes to bring you a look at what goes on in a typical working day of an auctioneer. If you're thinking of making the jump to auctioneering, this is a great insight from Jeremy Curzon, Director of Machinery and Vintage Auctions at Cheffins Auctioneers.

“Woke up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head..” as Sergeant Pepper once sang. Reality: “Woke up (at 4am) remembered 34 things in the latest auction catalogue that needed changing, fell asleep, got out of bed (late), dragged a comb across my head, remembered I’m bald and that it was pointless…” etc.

Carol Kirkwood announces that Noah has the day off, 10 million cheers, I can ride a motorbike to the office. The hugest satisfaction as I zoom past that hideous term time queue into Cambridge, mile after mile of parents dropping their aphids off at the school steps interspersed with the workers resigned to the morning coma and Chris Evans’ banalities on the radio.

I sail past them all in an Italian V twin storm of sound, the highlight of the day, not only cool but smug!

I consider myself the great re-cycler, and as such, rummaging in houses, barns and sheds is what I do, so that first call of the morning is to tie up a visit later in the day to see the “nasty pile of rubbish in the barn Uncle has left us with”.

Meanwhile we press on with getting the next sale organised, printers, staff and caterers, all of whom I manage to confuse and annoy in equal measure.

Next we deal with the world’s greatest questions, phone rings, I answer quite clearly “Good Morning, Cheffins, Jeremy Curzon speaking”, immediate response, almost every time, “Oh… is that Jeremy Curzon?” or how about “I see you have a sale, what lot number will you be starting with?” or “I’ve got loads of old magazines, would you be interested?” even “you charge a commission? Well that’s a bit greedy isn’t it?”

Then there’s the inevitable call “I’ve been looking at your latest catalogue and couldn’t help noticing that you have a 1924 Old Grunter motorcycle coming up, well…my father’s cousin twice removed used to have one” the next 10 minutes drags a bit as we swiftly establish that it was scrapped in 1949 but there’s no stopping a lengthy anecdote. This is an auctioneer’s Social Services department in action. Never dismiss any lead, one day a rambling call will bear fruit and, at the very least you’ll have kept someone company for a short while.

The usual office duties over with, the afternoons line up of visits begins. Sometimes a phone call leaves you less than enthusiastic but experience shows that guessing finds nothing. So once again leaping aboard the Ducati and off to the first village address to see “some old stuff in the workshop”.

Turning up on a motorbike can often prove to be a real ice breaker and a great talking point, very helpful when having to break the news that the workshop contents are realistically landfill material or at best suitable for melting down.

A swift 40 miles later and 2 minutes of winding up and down a country lane looking for the location, a suitably faded farmhouse and barns hove into view. Greet the much flustered lady who has been left with the unenviable task of sorting the deceased’s estate out. Then greet the excited small children all eager to clamp on to the hottest parts of the Ducati’s exhaust system, family eventually under control, mother pacified, children’s interest gained it’s off to the barn.

The eyes gradually tune in to the gloom and cobwebs and clearly there is cause for some optimism. Uncle was clearly a hoarder of some taste and between the two rather fine late 1940s Field Marshall tractors there is a number of well-preserved horse drawn ploughs. Further swivelling of the Curzon neck reveals a good number of rather fine enamel advertising signs nailed to various beams and…do I spy a spoked wheel poking out from beneath that canvas?

At this point normally an uninspiring moped appears but great joy, a pre-war Sunbeam Model 9 in wonderful untouched condition brings a tear to the auctioneer’s eye. Of course the client’s mind has only taken in the mounds of knackered tools, broken machinery and “useful” building materials that have proved their static usefulness for 50 years. The good news for the client is that there is at least £35,000 worth of good things and the following 45 minutes are occupied in assurances that I can deal with all of it, it won’t take a lifetime and the charges are actually not of national debt level as feared. Tea drunk, bored small children grinned at and contracts signed. This will be a client relationship that will build as it’s a week long job to clear, catalogue, photograph and remove. There’s also a family history to learn which all adds flavour to the catalogue description.

Today’s triumph accomplished, back to the office, don the summer riding gear, helmet on, rain, bugger!