Charles Hanson - the TV antiques expert on his life in Derbyshire
- Credit: Hansons
Charles Hanson reveals his most interesting finds and explains how Derbyshire ignited his passion for antiques and history.
When you see somebody exude enthusiasm on TV, you often wonder whether such passion continues once the cameras stop rolling.
In the case of Charles Hanson, who has been entertaining the nation on daytime classics such as Bargain Hunt, Flog it and Antiques Road Trip for the best part of two decades, you’re left in no doubt.
‘Living as a young boy on Bowbridge Fields Farm, Mackworth, I would often spend time with my grandfather,’ recalls Charles vividly.
‘He was a Derbyshire farmer and almost made it to 100 - a fine man. He was blind for the last 60 years of his life and would invite dectorists to his land - there was a Roman road near Mackworth, so plenty to be discovered.
‘He would rub his old hands and say ‘look grandson, a Roman coin’. He couldn’t see it but it sparked something in me. I thought to myself: ‘If it could talk, what would it tell us?’.
Charles has gone on to discover, examine and auction thousands of artefacts from around the world, some dating back centuries.
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But his own passion for such items can be traced back much closer to home.
‘I remember going with my parents to so many wonderful Derbyshire locations and being amazed by everything I saw’ says Charles. ‘Kedleston, Calke Abbey, Haddon, Hardwick, you name it, they all left their mark on me.
‘I suppose the day I really knew this was a passion I wanted to pursue was when I was 13, in my parents’ field.
‘There I was exploring on a grey, Derbyshire day when out the ground came a silver shilling with Charles I staring up at me; dated circa 1630.
‘I thought: ‘Long time no see. Where were you going? What could you have bought? How has Derbyshire changed? Breathe again, you’re alive.’
As a budding young chef may head to the bright lights of London to serve their apprenticeship, for Charles, the capital too was the setting for his professional development.
‘A humble lad going down to London from Derbyshire, not that well connected, mixing with all these lords and ladies, it was a great hunting ground to learn about objects,’ he says.
‘The first thing I held was an Italian Medici family piece of porcelain made between 1565 and 1587, worth about £500,000, and I got the privilege of handling that; it was a great learning curve.
Then, in 2002, Charles – a self-confessed died-in-the-wool Derby County supporter – got his big break.
‘I was a very shy boy, never spoke in class, had a slight stammer, and people often wonder how I have become this almost showman,’ he laughs.
‘The BBC approached me for Bargain Hunt and I was asked to do a live show. I was 24 at the time, so thrust into the limelight somewhat.
‘They quite liked my awkward, slightly eccentric style, and asked me to come again. I’ve been on Bargain Hunt now for the best part of 19 years. It’s been a great show to meet people and I’ve enjoyed it.’
Those au fait with the format will know that one of the highlights of the show is when the expert gets to pick a ‘mystery item’, which may make – or lose – the contestants money.
So does Charles feel the pressure when choosing his item for the team he is supporting?
‘I always say to my team ‘make a memory’’, reveals Charles.
‘You often wonder how some items can be so old yet not highly regarded. For example, you could buy a Derby porcelain from the 1700s which might fetch £40.
‘That breathes history of 18th century Derbyshire so I love digging and spending money on history but I also like to have a gamble. Sometimes it works, sometimes it falls flat, but you have to make it interesting.’
For Charles, his professional work and sense of community often go hand in hand.
‘Seeing All Saints Church in Mackworth, the heartland and history of our county, burned down last year – although it’s been rebuilt now – really struck a chord.
‘My wife is a local NHS worker and my mum a retired occupational therapist from Belper so I feel the needs of my local community keenly. If I can help people from all walks of life create a memory, that’s what is important and why I love my job.
‘I’ve done some big charity auctions – BBC Children in Need and the like – but there’s no bigger thrill than fundraising for what’s local and important.
‘The highlight of my career to date was last year as lockdown began when I conducted my ‘garden shed auction’, which raised £40,000.
‘I got Chesney Hawkes to sing ‘I am the one and only’ to our great Derbyshire and Burton crowd and had Neil Morrissey donate a picture to the Derbyshire sand Staffordshire NHS fund; that was really special.’
And then the inevitable question. Which are the items Charles has sold at auction that really stand out?
'I remember once a Chinese vase came into us from a local lady, she wanted me to put it up at an auction due to take place at Mackworth Hotel,’ he remembers with a smile. ‘I met her and informed her that it should fetch between £800 - £1,200.
‘On the viewing day the room was full of Chinese buyers all looking at this vase. The following day I started the bidding at £1,000 and like a Mexican wave in Mackworth hands were thrown up into the air.
‘Bidding began at £10,000. Then we went to £100,000 live in Hong Kong. £180,000, £190,000... the bid reached £192,000 and my gavel came crashing down.’
Not only did this episode, one presumes, change the life of the seller, it also acted as a seminal moment for Charles and his business, Hansons Auctioneers.
‘That £192,000 really gave me the opportunity to go for it,’ he explains. ‘We purchased the site at Etwall and that was a really great start.’
The case of the Chinese vase would, incredibly, be repeated, years later.
‘Six years ago I went to a house to be met with two children, the client’s grandchildren, playing with and shaking a vase at the front door – the same vase I was there to value and take to auction.
‘I picked it up, inspected it, and saw it was of Emperor Qianlong, 1735 – 1799, and told them I thought it to be worth around £20,000. Their response? ‘Put it in your car and sell it’.
‘I got back to Derby and one of our consultants looked at the vase and said ‘you’ve got this wrong Charles, it wasn’t made for the export market, it was made for the Imperial market. It’s worth around half a million pounds.
‘I phoned and told them I was going to tweak the guide price slightly - increasing it from £20,000 to around £500,000. ‘Is that OK?’ I asked.
‘After what seemed like an eternity the elderly lady at the other end of the line responded with ‘oh go on then!’ And that was it. It made £650,000.’
It’s not just old, worldy items that catch the eye. Just last year, Charles bought the gavel down on a Harry Potter hardback first issue of The Philosopher's Stone, sold for £68,000.
Such experiences show that it rarely pays to judge a book – or antique – by its cover, a notion Charles very much subscribes to.
‘You meet the great and the good. We go into humble homes and great, grand homes but you never know what you’re going to find.
‘You can never be judgemental. Each four walls have a story to tell.’