When is the right time to sell antiques


- Credit: Archant

To sell or not to sell? There comes a time in every collector’s life when the question of selling on antiques is at least considered, so what are your options?

There’s a theory when it comes to antiquities that, like great houses, you do not own them but are merely the custodian for a time. The amount of time that is can depend on how long you want it for, as much as lifespan. And while January is traditionally a time to look at our lives, our homes and make plans for the future, for many that might mean finally getting around to a project that you’ve put off for a long time, such as selling that collection of lovely 19th century teacups that were left to you by Great Aunt Ada, but really aren’t your style. Or perhaps a set of old landscape paintings that have never found the right wall.

So what are the best ways to sell? You would imagine that when it comes to something as solid as antiques, that trends wouldn’t matter – but the price of items depends on two things: rarity and demand and where you have both, your chosen collectables are sure to fetch a premium.

In 2016 we were in love with textiles and mid-20th century design; in art it was all about modernism with artworks by the likes of Andy Warhol, Joan Miró and the American expressionists setting new auction house records. Christies sold a Willem de Kooning painting for $66m – far exceeding its $40m expected price. But there will still be work even by these anointed artists that will go unsold – including a recent Matisse.

But unless you have a forgotten Monet in your attic waiting to be discovered on Antiques Roadshow, it’s worth being sensible about the value of your item. Most auction houses and auctioneers will usually help you set a reasonable price for your work. Give them a call – if it’s valuable they may even make a housecall and waive a valuation fee if the items are later sold through them. But at an auction house you may pay a lot fee – even if the item isn’t sold. In this way the internet has revolutionised the way we sell and has grown the size of the potential marketplace to a global scale, but it’s often not the size of the market, but whether people want to actually buy that makes the difference. This may mean that specialist collectables don’t sell very well on general auction sites like eBay. But the web can help with fixed price online valuation services who need only a series of images and some history of the item to give you an idea of its price. If you go through an auctioneers, you have the benefit of their experience. They will help you set a reasonable reserve – or you can agree to sell at ‘the auctioneer’s discretion’. Charges on top of a percentage of the sale can include costs for inclusion in a catalogue, any transportation and valuation carried out, so be clear on what will cost what.

Always attend an auction before selling through one - it helps give you a feel for what will happen on the day. But beware, the excitement of the bidding wars could leave you starting a new collection instead of getting rid of one…

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