Auctioneer marks important milestones

AN ANTIQUES auctioneer from the Cotswolds has marked two important milestones – celebrating 30 years in the trade, and 20 with Moore Allen & Innocent in Cirencester.

Today, Philip is well-known as a resident valuer and auctioneer on a host of TV programmes including Bargain Hunt, Antiques Road Trip, and Cash in the Attic.

And his claim to fame is identifying an undiscovered Rembrandt which he sold from the Cirencester saleroom in 2007 for £2.2m – a record sum for a provincial auction house.

It is a far cry from his first turn on the rostrum 30 years ago, limping into the car park of an independent auction house in Norfolk in a damaged Mini and being ordered to take over from his boss – who needed a toilet break.

"It was my birthday," said Philip, who had dropped out of law school and was working as a porter and 'general dog's body' at the auction house.

"I was late for work and in a bit of a hurry. I was driving through some woods when a deer ran out and hit my car.

"I turned up to work even later than I would have been, and was ordered to take over on the rostrum by my boss, who needed the toilet. I was shaking like a leaf, selling to a crowd of 300 dealers, but they were very kind to me and I got the auctioning bug."

Before long, Philip was invited to join Hamptons in the historic market town of Great Dunmow in Essex.

It was there that he secured his first world record, selling a 17th century silver tankard engraved with the coat of arms of Clan Kennedy in Ayrshire crossed with the arms of France in recognition of the family's support against the English.

With an estimate of £10,000 to £12,000 the tankard had attracted the interest of some of the world's most powerful silver dealers. Philip brought the gavel down at £30,000 – exceeding the world record for a piece of silverware by £10,000.

And his record-breaking run – Philip has broken world record prices for chairs, corkscrews, and musical boxes – was to continue with Moore Allen & Innocent, who approached him to work for them at the tail end of 2017.

"At the time we did not have a saleroom of our own," said Philip. "We hired Cirencester's Bingham Hall. Owners would bring their antiques in on a Monday, we'd set up on a Tuesday, catalogue on a Wednesday, conduct viewings on a Thursday, and sell on a Friday – and more than once I was late because I couldn't find anywhere to park."

Philip toured the Cirencester area looking for suitable accommodation, and found a former grain store with plenty of space for parking at Norcote, on the outskirts of the town. The first sale at Norcote – in July 1999 – was a single-vendor 239 lot auction on behalf of the British diplomat, environmentalist, and academic Sir Crispin Tickell.

Another single-vendor sale to hit the headlines was held in 2006. Downsizing from an eight-bedroom manor house to a grace-and-favour apartment at Kensington Palace, Prince and Princess Michael of Kent asked Philip to sell 'residual' items – including the Princess's exercise machine and Lord Frederick Windsor's childhood table football set.

The royals donated the proceeds to charity, while Philip got something special too: a cartoon in Private Eye. "It doesn't look like me though." he lamented. "It was a stereotypical antiques auctioneer."

Besides frequent general and antiques sales, Philip conducted regular picture sales, auctions of selected antiques, and sporting sales – which today are among the most popular sales of the year.

But it wasn't always so. "I was going to stop doing them," said Philip. "Then Northleach Saddlery closed down, and suddenly we had a sale with more than 1,000 lots of equestrian antiques. It was a huge success, breathing new life into the idea of sporting sales, and we got lots of consignments as a direct result of that auction."

The success of the sporting auctions led to one of the most interesting auctions of Philip's career: the sale of one of the finest single collections of fishing tackle ever seen... conducted on behalf of the Government's Assets Recovery Agency.

The antique reels, flies, lures, floats, rods, landing nets, knives and books had been bought by a criminal, whose belongings were seized under the Proceeds of Crime Act when he was arrested. The 836-lot sale attracted world-wide interest and raised £300,000 – more than £100,000 over the expected total.

By 2014 the auctioneers were ready to expand, and jumped at the chance of taking over an historic barn next door to their 20th century grain store. The two buildings were connected by a glazed walkway, and the new facility was opened by Paul Martin of Flog It! fame.

In recent years, advances in technology have brought both challenges and opportunities to the antiques trade. And while online market places have created some competition, they've also introduced ordinary members of the public to the idea of bidding against other interested parties.

The internet has also given firms like Moore Allen & Innocent access to a global market place. Live bidding means collectors from America, Russia, and China can – and do – bid in real time against rivals in the room.

"Everything changes, but everything stays the same," said Philip. "It's been an interesting 30 years. I'm lucky to be surrounded by a terrific team, doing a job lots of of people think would be fantastic to do."