Going, going, but certainly not gone: auction house has lots for the future

By Simon Hacker

Wotton’s nationally-famous auction house may seem a quaint memory, but its gavel is poised and primed for future trade.

With all staff furloughed and no practical means to maintain the monthly sales fixtures, Wotton Auction Rooms recently pencilled a date of May 12 and 13 for its next sale at the Tabernacle Pitch venue – though managing director Philip Taubenheim is more than aware that nothing is certain and the date isn’t yet firm.

“April would have been a cracking month at the salerooms,” he told The Wotton Times. 

“We had good entries awaiting cataloging, the first designated garden ornament sale building nicely, certainly encouraged by the run of remarkably good weather. But as it is, our doors are locked against an invisible enemy.”

Despite the ongoing uncertainty, Philip says that the next sale will be a bumper event. 

“We have 1,400 lots ready to go; it’s online and has been for weeks, with buyers new to the rooms registering to bid. 

“Once the signal from above is given, we can easily be one of the first sales ready to go anywhere in the country and I expect a very strong trade, with very little having been available over the past few weeks.”

Much of that pent-up demand, he says, is likely to focus on gold and jewellery. 

“Prices have been rising strongly, while equally collectors have found nothing available to enhance their collections. 

“Meanwhile antique and vintage house and garden furnishings have been in short supply and, with lots lined up for future sales, the times ahead are looking bright.”

As so many are now saying though, it’s unlikely that, post-Covid-19, our economic habits will return to “normal”. 

So what might be the shape of antiques and collectibles as a trading entity?

“With about 50% already being sold online, I see this figure as likely to increase significantly. 

“Buyers will not be the issue, and with plans to reconfigure the way in which items are displayed in the saleroom to comply with new guidelines, we should be able to manage the new era with confidence,” explains Philip.

“In the meanwhile, my staff who work so brilliantly as a team are furloughed and have been enjoying the remarkably good April weather with family close by.”

But how has Philip, who appears as a regular expert with BBC1’s Antiques Roadshow, found the impact of the disease on his own life?

“I found the first week or so difficult. Dropping my working hours from some 60 to 20 hours a week has turned out to be easier than I would have believed, but I do miss the comradeship, not only of those working alongside me at the Auction Rooms, but of the other traders. 

“The lockdown flew in the face of everything I had ever known in business. 

“However, I have now embraced this period as the holiday I would never be able to enjoy during my working life.”

Any sense of a holiday soon changed though: “I now find myself under strict domestic management rules at Taubenheim Towers – the place has never been so well buffed!”

“What I ultimately miss is everyone who makes this little market town such a special place in which to live or work. 

“Many who visit our Auction Rooms every month, often having travelled considerable distances, are both complementary and envious of us and everyone associated with this small and ancient town, clinging to the edge of the Cotswold Hills.”