BONHAMS’ BEST SELLERS
With demand and prices for classics on the increase, auction houses are growing. We have a word with the biggest – Bonhams
Exclusive walk through the greatest bikes that’ve gone under their famous hammer
With news breaking of auction house Bonhams being sold to private equity firm Epiris, now seems as good a time as any to take a look back at how the firm has become the biggest name in the UK’S classic bike auction market. The new owner is committed to maintaining Bonhams’ high standards and reportedly has significant plans to invest further in the business. That sounds like good news for Bonhams.
In the here and now, though, what’s involved in selling a bike at auction with the biggest player in the business? James Stensel, Bonhams’ UK head
of motorcycles talks us through the whole procedure.
“It’s a simple process,” he explains. “When you make an enquiry with us, the first thing is to organise a valuation. Either one of the head office team or one of our area specialists will come to visit you, examine the bike (or bikes), give you as much advice as you need and help you to fill in the consignment paperwork if you decide to go ahead with selling your bike with us. If you have a big collection, one of our motorcycle team will usually come out.
We discuss valuation, reserves and estimates with the vendor and make sure both sides are happy before going any further. Any bike with an estimate below £2000 has to be offered without reserve, and reserve prices cannot be any higher than the low estimate. It’s important to bear in mind, though, that the estimate figure is not an estimate of value. The market decides that on the day of the sale.”
Once a vendor commits to a sale, they can either arrange transport for the bike (or bikes) to the sale venue themselves, or Bonhams can put them in touch with their recommended transport contractors. “We can also arrange insurance for you, if you don’t have your own,” James continues. “The premium is calculated as 1.5% of the mid-estimate figure (halfway between the low and high estimate).”
After that, it’s just a question of waiting for sale day and, while a sale on the day can’t be guaranteed, James is quick to point out that Bonhams have one of the best sell-through rates in the business. “Over 90% of all the bikes we consign, sell,” he confirms with a smile.
That sounds impressive, but there’s a reason why. “People – buyers and sellers – trust us,” says James. “We spend a huge amount of time researching lots and undertaking due diligence on them. We aim to ensure every lot is what it purports to be. As an example, we 1953 INDIAN CHIEF:
One of very few Chiefs to leave the factory in the final year of the model’s production, this is an earlier restoration of the final incarnation of the legendary ‘Big Chief’. It has been kept on display by the current vendor since 1999 and will require some recommissioning. Estimate: $26,000-30,000 (£19,950-23,180)
‘WE RUN EVERY VINCENT THAT WE CONSIGN PAST THE OWNERS CLUB EXPERTS’
run every Vincent we consign past the owners club experts, checking numbers and records. And we’re signed up to the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and National Association of Valuers and Auctioneers (NAVA) codes of conduct. And we are the only auction house I know that uses trust accounts, which keep buyers’ and sellers’ money separate from the business account. If something were to go wrong with Bonhams, clients’ money is safe.
“We have excellent international reach and our social media marketing is second to none. We can reach 5.5 million potential bidders. And then, of course, there’s our sales record. We publish auction results immediately after every sale, so anyone can see what we’ve achieved for our clients. And our fees are reasonable, too.”
Ah, the fees. Just what does it cost to sell a bike at a Bonhams sale? “For sellers, our fees, including VAT, are 12% of the hammer price,” James reveals. “Catalogue entry fees range from £36 (including VAT) for a quarterpage to £288 for a double-page spread. We’re happy to negotiate preferential rates for collections, too.”
That sounds pretty good. But there’s another good reason to deal with Bonhams. They’re nice people and they’re all passionate about bikes – just like you and I. James is into his off-roaders, International Head of Motorcycles Ben Walker likes veteran and vintage iron, Andy Barrett is steeped in Velocettes and Bill To loves his Japanese classics. Put simply, they love all bikes.
And they’re rather good at selling them.
Lots of time is taken researching lots CB’S Gez (left) gets the lowdown in Bonhams’ archive facility