Cash in the attic? Now’s the time to go looking

Art and antiques specialists can often give you a valuation online

There is no spinning it, we now find ourselves in uncharted waters in the art and antiques market. However Irish auction houses are still open for business and are busy valuing items all over the country – by email and telephone.

While stuck at home, many people find themselves rearranging their houses to suit their current working conditions.

But this can be the very time to place a monetary value on all the stuff that has been hiding in the attic. Granny’s old bracelets, Uncle Jim’s war medals, a painting or unopened bottle of wine that family legend has it that is worth a few bob. Or indeed a painting that you might like to know the value of, and may want to sell on when this crisis has passed.

Online valuations are not a new phenomenon. For Rory Guthrie of de Vere's auction house on Kildare Street: "The reality is that 90 per cent of all our correspondence is done by email or telephone anyway; so day to day work has not been impacted. We have taken the view that we are still open for business and are fully functional, albeit from home."


Similarly art expert Ian Whyte, of Whyte's on Molesworth Street, finds that online valuations are increasing and not just for low to middle value items.

“We actually already get about 50 per cent of our consignments through initial valuations by email, including some items with values in excess of €100,000, and in one instance a collection that fetched more than €5 million, which was a large selection of important paintings.”

Most auctioneers will give an indication of value for free. However, written valuations to be used for probate and insurance purposes usually incur a fee. It is best to check with the auctioneer up-front as to how much they will charge.

Recently a photograph of a Chinese moon flask was sent by email to Sotheby’s from a private Irish collector which created a bit of a stir at the auction house.

"It came in by email, and we sent the photograph to our Chinese expert in London who became very excited about the piece. It was valued from the images alone, and followed up by a visit from our expert to view the moonflask in person" according to Arabella Bishop of Sotheby's. The item is now consigned to its Chinese Sale later this year with a £150,000–£250,000 estimate.

"You must also remember that just because something had a 'back in the day' value, it does not necessarily follow today" advises auctioneer Sean Eacrett. "People forget that they have had years of value from a piece, and just because they paid thousands for it 20 years ago, that does not always translate into its current value."

Educated opinions

He cites Waterford crystal and Edwardian bedroom furniture as items that do not have a huge resale market today, compared to G Plan furniture from the 1960s to the 1980s which are currently popular and sell well.

Adam’s of St Stephen’s Green are all geared up for online valuations.

“As online queries have outnumbered “walk-ins” by a factor of five to one for the past couple of years, we have a team of 10 valuers providing opinions on everything from vintage wine, collectables such as silver, china, glass and oriental artworks as well as furniture,” says James O’Halloran.

He adds “We expect that people, stuck at home in the coming weeks, will have the time to investigate some of the odds and ends around the house that they’re curious about, and we certainly hope to be able to play our part in providing educated opinions.”

Philip Sheppard recalls a recent set of photographs that were emailed to his auction house.

“An elderly couple from Tipperary emailed us some photographs of old family medals. I happened to be in Los Alamos New Mexico, and the office sent them through to me. The medals were easily identifiable: a King’s South Africa Medal (Boer War with its distinctive green white and orange ribbon) and a British WW I campaign trio (known affectionately as Pip, Squeak and Wilfred).

“Within a matter of minutes I was able to access the owner’s uncle’s British Army medal rolls index card, confirm he was indeed the recipient and, having accessed the online Census of Ireland from 1911, was able to inform the owner, that his uncle Ed was in fact Edmund and not Edward as the family had thought.”

To get a valuation, chose an auctioneer whose sales match the items you have, by going through past sales and archives on their website. You can also see prices achieved for artists whose work you may own, to give you some indication of their value

It's essential to have good photographs of items to be valued. For paintings, take pictures of both sides, with additional photographs zoomed in on the signature and any writing on the back. Stuart Purcell of Mullen's Laurel Park suggests taking only the measurement of the painting and not the frame.

Ian Whyte recommends keeping image sizes under 10MB otherwise they may not get delivered by email, and to be patient in awaiting a valuation, as assessing and authenticating an item can take time.

Kitchen scales

Jewellery is notoriously difficult to photograph well, says O’Halloran “whereas watches photograph very well, and it is also useful to have original papers and certificates to verify authenticity”.

For silver valuations John Weldon, who holds monthly jewellery auctions in Temple Bar, suggests you pop it on the kitchen scales "as we need to know how heavy it is, and this will have a bearing on its value. Also do not worry about cleaning the silver as buyers like to see it with 20 years of tarnish".

Greg Carley of O'Reilly's on Francis Street suggests clearing out dressing tables and jewellery boxes "as we have a continued demand for pre-owned good quality jewellery, especially designer brands such as Cartier, Tiffany and Rolex".

Lynes & Lynes in Cork is are always interested in "silver and art especially of Cork interest" and Margaret Hegarty of Hegarty's auction rooms in Bandon says its sale last weekend had more than double the usual number of online bidders.

Sometimes it takes an expert eye to choose what to photograph in the first place, as noted by Stuart Purcell of Mullen's of Laurel Park: "Our (now postponed) Collector's Cabinet sale includes a very early and rare map of Ireland by Abraham Ortelius, which I spotted in the background of a photograph of a not very valuable Chinese vase. The map however, we have estimated to be worth €2,500–€3,000."

And, finally, a word on provenance. It is one of the most important factors when assessing an item. Not only does it help an auctioneer to authenticate a piece it can – if it has an interesting back story – add to its value.

So perhaps when telephoning older relatives who may feel isolated at the difficult crossroads we now face; it may an opportunity to have a conversation about a piece they may have knowledge of, and will enjoy chatting about.

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