Time to sell the fam­ily sil­ver

With the hous­ing mar­ket in a slump, in­creas­ing num­bers of peo­ple are turn­ing to the con­tents of their homes for in­come, says Ross Clark

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Antiques -

First of all, the Ge­or­gian sil­ver goes,” said Harold Macmil­lan in a mem­o­rable speech at­tack­ing Mrs Thatcher’s pri­vati­sa­tion pol­icy in 1985. “And then all that nice fur­ni­ture that used to be in the sa­lon. Then the Canalet­tos…”

In hard-up Bri­tain, sell­ing the fam­ily sil­ver is an act to which more and more of us are be­ing driven. Far from us­ing our homes as cash­points, as we were lit­tle more than a year ago, in­creas­ing num­bers are be­ing forced to make ends meet by auc­tion­ing off the con­tents. Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent sur­vey by the char­ity Shel­ter, one in nine Bri­tish house­holds have had to sell pos­ses­sions this year to make ends meet.

Any­one looking to fill their homes with arte­facts on the cheap is hav­ing a field day. The num­ber of an­tiques auc­tioned on eBay has in­creased by 25 per cent over the past three months to 18,000. Even more dra­matic is the rise in the num­bers of peo­ple us­ing web­sites which of­fer a dis­creet val­u­a­tion ser­vice. Ron­ald Pep­per of an­tiqueshunt­ing. com says that the num­ber of peo­ple hav­ing items val­ued has dou­bled since the spring. “It is par­tic­u­larly the case with jew­ellery,” he says. “It is easy stuff to move. If you need money quickly, you think the eas­i­est thing I can do is to sell watches and rings. But in­evitably as more stuff gets dumped onto the mar­ket, prices start to fall.”

Stu­art Blay of Bath An­tiques On­line also runs a con­fi­den­tial val­u­a­tion ser­vice, where an­tique-own­ers can have an es­ti­mated value put on their an­tiques by sup­ply­ing pho­to­graphs and de­scrip­tions. He says there has been a sud­den surge in en­quiries over the past three months. “We have seen an in­crease of 30 to 40 per cent in busi­ness over that time, all from pri­vate in­di­vid­u­als,” he says. “There has been a par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est in sell­ing medals.”

Not all of them are dusty heir­looms won in the Boer War. In May, while Chelsea’s multi-mil­lion­aire foot­ballers flew off to Moscow to face Manch­ester United in the fi­nal of the Cham­pi­ons’ League, for­mer Chelsea star Alan Hud­son was moved to auc­tion his 1971 Euro­pean Cup Win­ner’s Medal for £25,000 – which he won by beat­ing Real Madrid in a 2-1 play-off. “I’m a lit­tle bit short and I could do with the money,” he ex­plained.

Whether now is the best time to be sell­ing your fam­ily heir­looms is an­other mat­ter. The Royal In­sti­tu­tion of Char­tered Sur­vey­ors col­lates a quar­terly sur­vey on the an­tiques mar­ket which un­til the mid­dle of this year showed steady prices. How­ever, in the third quar­ter the an­tiques mar­ket ap­pears to have started to fol­low the hous­ing mar­ket down­hill, with two per cent more dealers re­port­ing a fall in prices than re­port­ing a rise. The big­gest dis­ap­point­ment is likely to come with your Ge­or­gian ta­ble and Vic­to­rian cor­ner cup­board: the mar­ket for “brown fur­ni­ture”, says Stu­art Blay, has been in the dol­drums for sev­eral years, as wealthy home own­ers have cleared out what they see as stuffy in­te­ri­ors for some­thing a lit­tle more mod­ern. There are also signs that the real boom mar­ket of the past few years – con­tem­po­rary art – has stalled too.

It is very easy to be fooled by the value of your pos­ses­sions. My own ex­pe­ri­ence in try­ing to raise cash from an un­wanted ar­ti­fact ended in dis­ap­point­ment.

My cast iron Vic­to­rian-style fire sur­round looked in­con­grous in my liv­ing room but surely it had to be worth good money to some­body? Alas not. When I hawked it around an­tique shops the most I man­aged to get for it was £10 – hardly enough to pay the petrol. Cru­cially the fire­place was miss­ing the hearth which re­duced its value from what would oth­er­wise would have been a £70-£100 haul. HOW TO SELL YOUR HEIR­LOOMS


The eas­i­est way to raise cash from your heir­loom is to take it to a lo­cal an­tiques dealer. As­sum­ing the dealer takes a lik­ing to your arte­fact, you will re­ceive your money in­stantly in or­der to pay next week’s mort­gage in­stal­ment.

Com­mon sense, how­ever, dic­tates that you should do some home­work be­fore­hand, and seek the opin­ion of sev­eral dealers be­fore mak­ing the de­ci­sion to sell. The An­tiques Trade Gazette has an on­line di­rec­tory of an­tiques prices (www.the­sale­room.com) which will give you a rough idea of how much your item is worth.


You may well get a bet­ter price by hold­ing out for an auc­tion, par­tic­u­larly one which spe­cialises in the kind of item you are try­ing to sell. If the auc­tion turns out to be a damp squib, you are not com­mit­ted to sell: you can set a re­serve price, be­low which the item will not be sold. The bad news is that if you thought sell­ing a house via an es­tate agent is ex­pen­sive, auc­tion­ing an­tiques is more so. Auc­tion houses typ­i­cally take 10 to 15 per cent plus VAT on­line.

As­sum­ing your an­tiques are not too pre­cious, the in­ter­net is a cheap way of ad­ver­tis­ing them to the widest pos­si­ble au­di­ence. There is al­ways the chance that grand­mother’s glum old clock will be bid up to a silly price. eBay is the best known site, with an in­ter­na­tional au­di­ence, al­though there are a num­ber of ded­i­cated an­tiques auc­tion sites such as www. bathan­tiqueson­line.com.

Sec­ond time around: in the past few months, large num­bers of peo­ple have turned to sell­ing valu­ables in­clud­ing medals, dolls and din­ing chairs to raise money

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