You can have lots of fun at an auction and Silverwoods of Clitheroe is outbidding the rest

You can have lots of fun at an auction and one particular sale is outbidding the rest. Roger Borrell reports

Close your eyes and it could be a theatre foyer just minutes before the curtain goes up. A little electricity crackles through the air, people mill around, some chatting, some looking pensive. A few seem flamboyant, verging on the eccentric.

In fact, it’s hard to tell the actors from the audience but there is no mistaking the man taking the lead role. He is a tall, imposing character with the sort of baritone that comes from the boots. He’ll need it. Over the next three hours his vocal chords will be tested like catgut on a Stradivarius. As the clocks (there are several hanging from the walls) tick around to 1pm, he takes centre stage, calls for order and the performance begins.

Of course, this is no playhouse and the man everyone is focused upon is no actor. He is the wonderfully-named auctioneer Wilf Mould and this is the Rediscovery sale, a Wednesday event which has taken Lancashire bargain-hunters by storm.

Over the last 18 months, the weekly sales have turned recycling into a fine art with turnover increasing threefold. You get the impression that even the people running the show are a little surprised by the size of the success. On Wednesdays when the adjoining auction mart is also is busy with farm animals and the like, the site can attract 2,000 buyers and sellers.

Inside the large, modern saleroom at Silverwoods, on the outskirts of Clitheroe, you could be forgiven for assuming it’s full of other people’s old tat. But stroll up and down the surprisingly well-ordered aisles and you can see some little gems. While not containing the calibre of items available in the main Silverwoods saleroom next door, Rediscovery items have been known to fetch big money. A set of chairs expected to make �200 went for �500. At the other end of the scale, are boxes of assorted stuff, for want of a better word, which might contain a treasure or two.

‘Why is it so successful? Because there are bargains to be had,’ says Wilf, Swiss-born and raised in Chorley. ‘The Rediscover sale has taken off like a rocket.’ Brown furniture can go for a song and even Georgian pieces can be picked up cheaply.

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Wilf is every inch a auctioneer with side-whiskers that could give Bradley Wiggins a run for his money. He has to deal with up to 500 lots, antique and modern, and he operates it as a walking auction with the bidders following him from table to table. It tests his feet as well as his larynx even with a trainee, Kurt Von Rugemer, to assist.

Smaller portable pieces are most popular, especially gold and silver Interiorsnteriorsnteriorsnteriorsnteriorsnteriorsnteriorsnteriorsjewellery. But popular culture can dictate trends. ‘The popularity of baking programmes on television means that tea services are always in demand,’ says Wilf. ‘You can’t get a cake stand for love nor money!

‘Perhaps the economy has played some part in the sale’s success but it’s not obvious that people are coming here because they are hard up. Whatever the reason, I can see it getting bigger. If you increased the size of the hall, we’d fill it.’

Among the throng, you’ll find some big local dealers, everyday bargain hunters and a few interior designers after distressed and unusual items to create the perfect look at the homes of the well-heeled.

One regular buyer and seller is Christine Puckett-Gouldin, who lives at Hapton. ‘We travel to salerooms up and down the country and it’s the friendliness and the eclectic mix of lots that attracts us. You never know what you are going to find.’

Christine knows what she is talking about. She is particularly interested in historical and rural artefacts and confesses to having a home full. She picks up many items at Silverwoods Bygones sales and her collection is so good she has loaned items to the BBC for their Victorian Farmhouse series. ‘My weighing scales were the stars of the show,’ she laughs.

During her time stalking salerooms she has picked up a Canadian dog sled, a nine foot long triptych mirror and a Georgian fish kettle, a mighty 65lbs of solid copper.

As you walk around you think: ‘Do I need a Toby jug in the shape of General Montgomery, several hundred Egyptian perfume bottles, the 1981 Whizzer and Chips annual or a guitar so large King Kong would struggle to get a tune from it?’

Well, maybe not, but someone does because come 8pm the place is empty and ready for the next consignment to arrive.

Silverwoods are holding a special valuation day on Tuesday, October 30, between 1pm-6pm. Experts will be on hand to give guidance and the fee of �1 per item goes to the Macmillan charity.

Keep calm and bid

Olivia Assheton of Silverwoods is re-assuring. ‘No, we aren’t going to sell you something because you’ve scratched your nose!’

But what is the best advice to any auction room virgin? Wilf says: ‘Keep calm, take your time and be observant. Don’t dive straight in.

‘Buy what you like personally unless you are planning to go into business. There is nothing frightening about buying or selling here. People know a lot more these days but don’t assume you know everything just because you’ve watched all those antiques programmes. Watch other people and quietly pick up tips from them.’

Start off by spending a couple of pounds on a number card to show when your bid is successful and don’t forget you have to pay VAT when you buy and sell.

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