Yorkshire's oldest auctioneer and why he has no plans to hang up the gavel just yet

In six decades auctioneer Michael Baitson reckons to have said the word "sold" millions of times.

Yorkshire's oldest auctioneer Michael Baitson Picture Simon Hulme
Yorkshire's oldest auctioneer Michael Baitson Picture Simon Hulme

Probably Yorkshire's oldest auctioneer Mr Baitson, 81, still loves the job and has no plans to hang up his gavel.

The family business, now on Anlaby Road, in Hull, was set up by his father Gilbert Baitson in 1935.

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His dad famously sold a set of spectacles belonging to infamous chief of the SS Heinrich Himmler.

Gilbert Baitson auctioneers started out in 1935

Asked what he best remembers selling, it's three-quarters of a tonne of false teeth.

"It was a dental manufacturer who went into liquidation. He sold them to a local caravan dealer who gravelled his drive with them."

He may now be about to sell - for the second time - Napoleonic Paull Fort, after its owners announced they were bowing out.

Mr Baitson believes the golden years of auctioneering are over, with live auctions threatened by the rise of Internet sales.

Michael Baitson has said the word 'sold' millions of times Picture: Simon Hulme

When he started out there were at least eight live auctions in Hull - now there's only his on a Wednesday.

Once upon a time knowing your customers were after was crucial and still is to a degree.

If a Chesterfield sofa comes up, he knows a chap in Hull who sends them to Lithuania. At one time the late Beverley art dealer James Starkey would be the man for a decent oil painting.

"He was the art man in the north of England," said Mr Baitson. "Before I sell an article, 50, 60, 70 per cent of the time I know who's going to be the buyer.

"It's different with the Internet, it could be anywhere in the world.

"I have a regular in Romania, another in Israel. I sold a bed set and a chest of drawers not long ago to South Korea. Small pieces of silver go to Australia because they are easy to post. Medical equipment goes to Chile."

Mr Baitson started in 1955 at the age of 17. "Apart from the auctioneering business, I had a little pig farm, I was doing a bit of market gardening, a bit of wheeling and dealing, auctioneering and rent collecting.

"Oh by heck I have lived. As time went by when I got into my early 20s I was full-time auctioneering.

"It's you against the world. They are all trying to outdo you. Your customers want to start you off at £1 when it's worth £500 and you have to do battle."

There are always surprises, like the lidded Chinese ginger jar the other day, with no identifying marks on the bottom, which they thought might fetch £300 to £500.

"We photographed it and put it on the Internet. We had a bidder in China on the phone and one in London and one on the Internet - and that damn thing made £4,600."

Then there was a nondescript pair of oak bookcases from a house clearance in Bridlington, which seemed hardly worth bringing back to Hull.

He thought they might be worth £5 but they sold for £1,700 after two bidders were after them.

It turned out that the furniture was Danish and had been in a house in Kent owned by a Danish architect.

"They have gone back now to the original house that the architect built," he said.

Or the house owned by a hoarder which he cleared for the council and contained 10 diamond rings. "You couldn't get into the bedrooms - you had to look over the top of the door."

Now apple boxes, or bottles, or petrol cans with names on them make "silly money" while old-fashioned, but beautifully crafted brown furniture, is still a no no.

Despite doing the job so long "every day is different - you can't get bored."

There was a recent occasion when he returned to work after having to take a couple of months off sick and stepped back onto the rostrum.

He said: "There was a round of applause when I got onto the rostrum. They were pleased to see me. It makes your day."