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Ever wondered what it's like to be an... auctioneer?
Business isn't always about boardrooms, briefings and black coffee. So, in tribute to the North-East men and women who take a more unusual approach to enterprise, Deputy Business Editor Lauren Pyrah takes a look at the unconventional, alternative or down right difficult careers in the region's economy.
David Elstob, 28, an auctioneer and business development manager for the North-East's oldest auction house, Thomas Watson Auctioneers and Valuers in Darlington.
How did you get into the antiques business?
I started off at a firm in Barnard Castle , which I joined straight out of school, aged 16. They did a few different things, including chartered surveying and estates, as well as auctioneering.
I was a valuer there for a number of years, then they suggested I should have a go at auctioneering.
My first sale, I think, was 30 lots of plants, which was tricky - that was about seven or eight years ago now.
Auctioneering was petrifying at first. You think your driving test is bad, but it's on a different level.
I remember standing there with all these faces looking at me - you could tell they were thinking, the young lad's going to have a go now. It went really well and I've never looked back. I never worry about it now - I absolutely love it.
What makes a good auctioneer?
Humour is everything. An auctioneer needs to have personality. You need to be able to speak to a crowd easily and be somewhat of a showman. You need to be organised and you also need to be able to think quickly and keep calm. Being an auctioneer never occurred to me when I was growing up. It's not a career I ever thought I'd really be doing, but it is very satisfying.
What's a good investment at the moment?
At every single auction at the moment, we are seeing good-quality Victorian and Georgian dark wood furniture. It's never been so affordable and it is incredible value for money right now. It's a good investment.
Any tips for people buying at auction?
I would say you should check the condition very thoroughly of anything you're thinking about buying before the auction. Whatever you buy, make sure you buy quality.
Never be scared to ask the opinion of the auctioneer in the viewing time - they should be able to give you an honest opinion of the piece.
Auctioneers are all generalists. We know enough to get a good idea of what a piece is worth and when we need to call in specialist experts. Normally we have our own area of expertise, where we are a bit stronger - mine is decorative arts, which is the period from 1860 onwards, covering all types of things from furniture to glass and china.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
It is different every day. Some of the people this job turns up are incredible. The characters you meet are amazing.
There is also that excitement you get whenever you go to someone's house, as you just don't know what you will find.
Usually, people have some idea that an item might be worth something but sometimes they don't have a clue.
I once came across a load of Heal's bedroom furniture, which were modern classics and worth about £12,000, and the householder had no idea.
We will always be honest about what an item is worth - it is in everyone's interest we get the best price we can. That's why people should look to auctioneers or independent valuers before going down the house clearance route.
What are your ambitions for the future?
We are the North-East's oldest auction house - we started in 1840 - and I want to strengthen the brand by bringing the business into the 21 century.
We've introduced on a regular basis a live online auction facility, which means anyone from across the world can bid as the auction happens. We have done it before, but this is the introduction of us doing it at every auction.
We are also now holding a quarterly fine art and antiques sale, which again we have done previously but this is the first time it will be four times a year.
The nice thing about us that we're not absolutely huge - if you took Aunt Elsie's chest of drawers, worth about £500, to a London or Leeds auction house, it would not be a big deal to them. It would be a big deal to us. We offer a personal service - that is our great selling point.
What's the most expensive lot you've ever sold?
That was a painting. It was Dutch, and we'd looked at it and had an expert look at it, and we all agreed we thought it was a in the style of a notable painter but was not actually painted by them.
Some Dutch gallery seemed to believe it was the genuine article and it sold to them for £10,000. We'd valued it at a fraction of that. You just never know with auctions.
And the strangest?
We have sold a lot of strange things. We sell strange things every sale. We also get stuffed animals which are a bit creepy.
However, the strangest thing was something I didn't personally sell - it was a colleague of mine running the auction. It was a dried out bull's scrotum and it was the strangest thing I have ever seen.
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