Dealers were the sole predators in salerooms until recently when the general public joined the hunt for those bargains and treasures. Now there are eBay traders, car booters and those who want to furnish their homes with fashionable vintage and antique finds.
“Going to an auction has become a form of recreation. At least a third of the people who come are private bidders rather than dealers,” says David Duggleby, who founded his eponymous Scarborough based auction house in 1996 with his wife Jane.
Welcoming the newbies and teaching them how to bid and buy has contributed to the success of the business, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. It began when David, who entered the trade straight from school, and former PE teacher Jane, decided to set up on their own. They converted an old garage on Vine Street into what is now one of Scarborough’s best known brands.
The capacious old building has proved adaptable to new ideas, like having a dedicated gallery to showcase paintings, which has helped David achieve several world record prices for Northern Artists. He is the principal fine art valuer, while Jane is an expert in costume jewellery. “You learn as you go along and you develop an eye for what is good and what might require further investigation,” says Jane, who enjoys the detective work and the history lessons and stories it delivers.”
A recent hunch led them to research a bible dated 1537, which they found in an old tea chest. It turned out to be a rare ‘Matthew bible’ and made £29,500, while a couple of 1960s Japanese robots fetched £950 and £850 each. Seafaring and angling antiques are always popular, although even David was surprised when a fishing reel made £6,200.
“It’s surprising where you find these things too. We got a table and chairs from a small house on a country estate. It was Arts and Crafts and went for £31,500. David found a 19th century Italian marble statue that had been left in a stable covered in straw. That fetched £8,600,” says Jane. “Whether it’s a country estate or little terraced house, you never know what is going to be behind the door.”
Over the years they have seen it all, from the exquisite and rare to the beautiful and the bizarre. The Victorian life-size monk with an automated cowl was one of last year’s oddities. He went under the hammer for a couple of hundred pounds.
Most of the auction items come from house clearances in Yorkshire and also from further afield, including London, thanks to diversification into removals and storage. The idea for David Duggleby Movers and Storers, which now has a fleet of vans and modern storage facilities, came from David and Jane’s son, William. The joined up thinking has helped secure the future of the firm, which is now a one-stop shop for moving, storing, selling and buying.
“We now do traditional removals and it works well because we are well used to transporting works of art and valuable furnishings so we know how to look after things. It also means people can bid and buy and have items delivered rather than arranging collection themselves.” says William, 30, who worked at Tomlinsons antique furniture warehouse at Tockwith for two years before joining the family firm.
He now runs the day-to-day operation at Vine Street and has also boosted the digital side of the business. The website includes a valuation area, where you can upload pictures and all the auction lots are online with live bidding. This makes the auctioneer’s job much more intense,
“You’re up on the rostrum and there are bids coming from the room, from the website and via the telephone. The remote bids come up on the computer screen but you still have to engage with the people in the room,” says William.
Good presentation and visual merchandising are vital to entice buyers and everything is carefully displayed on shelves and tables. Nothing is stacked up.
Taking a tip from Ikea, Duggleby’s also arrange some of the furniture in room sets. This high street approach has paid off and they sell 85-90 per cent of items first time. The fashion for upcycling and painting brown furniture and for retro homeware has helped, along with the market for antiques, which is picking up.
“Antiques were hit pretty hard during the trend for minimalist interiors but now people want them in their homes again. People have also realised they can furnish their home very cheaply at auction. That started in the recession. We were one of the few businesses that grew during that period for that reason.” says William, who is planning further expansion.
“I am always looking at ways we can grow the business and that obviously includes sourcing more items to sell and perhaps opening another auction house.”
*David Duggleby auctioneers, valuers, movers and storers, Vine Street, Scarborough, www.davidduggleby.com