Clean out and clean up by selling your valuables at auction

When it’s time to declutter antiques or art, auctioneers will often value free of charge

What’s it worth? Do you homework to find out what similar items have sold for

With spring around the corner, many of us will be thinking of decluttering, and for some the time might be right to sell or dispose of collections of antiques or art. This kind of decluttering can be quite the task; the art, books and the items we own define our identity and can be difficult to let go. But simplifying our living spaces can be cathartic and result in an easier space to live in. This is especially true for those who are downsizing.

There’s a growing body of evidence to show that clutter can negatively impact mental wellbeing, particularly among women, according to a New York Times piece based on a study published in Current Psychology. The story goes on to say that clutter can also induce a physiological response, “including increased levels of cortisol, a stress hormone”.

If the silver or porcelain collections that once belonged to your grandmother or elderly aunt are only taking up cupboard space and dust, sell them on without guilt. Sell everything you don’t love, and with the funds buy something you really do love.

A good plan is to divide items into three: those destined for the rubbish heap – if they cannot be recycled – those you will pass to charity or friends, and the ones you think may have some value and could be sold.


If you have art, furniture or other collectables that could be sold, then finding a suitable auction house is key. Have a look at previous sales and results from auction websites, and go with the one that you think best matches your belongings. If it is an entire house contents – for example an estate sale – look for an auctioneer who might consider selling on site.

Good photographs

Take good photographs of pieces you deem to be of value, “noting the size, signatures or any identification marks and condition. If it is a portrait, the name of the sitter as it can add value,” advises Ian Whyte of Whyte’s in Dublin. Then email them to an auction house for valuation.

This is a free service offered by auctioneers, who will give you an estimate on what they think an item could fetch, based on current demand, previous sales, provenance and years of expertise.

Stuart Purcell of Mullens of Laurel Park runs regular Collector's Cabinet sales; the type of auction that includes everything from stamps and bowls to stuffed baboons. He advises taking clear photographs that show the size and scale of each item.

“Some photographs can be very flattering while others don’t do the subject justice. I recall a silver claret jug which I estimated at €1,000-€1,500, based on its photo. When it arrived it was four times the size it had appeared in the photograph. I quickly revised the figure, and the vendor, who had been happy to sell at my first estimate, walked away looking happy, if a little shell-shocked.”

Despite some “sleepers” at Irish auctions every year (when an item sells for multiples over its estimate) the notion that there is a treasure in every Irish attic is the stuff of fairy tales.

Works with a strong provenance are always interesting to auction houses

However, the legacy of an item is very important and can greatly add to its value. If your old silver beaker belonged to Michael Collins, than it has an historical importance. So have your homework done with papers or evidence on where it came from. And remember stories of provenance are welcome on these pages.

"Works with a strong provenance are always interesting to auction houses.  Most houses will now include lots of lower value with the growth and success of online sales. At the end of the day, you want your works to reach the largest possible audience," advises Arabella Bishop of Sotheby's in Dublin.

Annual sales

This is the time of year when auction houses are busy with valuations and consigning for their annual sales, dates of which will be listed on their websites. Some houses, such as Adam's, Bonhams, Sotheby's and Whyte's have whistle-stop tours around the country over the coming months, where, by previous appointment items can be appraised.

Most auction houses will send a representative to assess items if there are a large number and if they deem them suitable for their customer base.

For sellers, remember there is a percentage premium of the hammer price to be paid to the auctioneer, which can range from 10 to 20 per cent, depending on a range of factors. There will also be transport charges to consider and, should large items not sell, there could be additional charges for storing them until the next auction.

For buyers, there is also a premium, 25 per cent, which includes VAT, but some online sales can add up to an additional 5 per cent on top of this figure. Ask in advance for clarity.

So whether it’s an old watch you never wear, an artwork that doesn’t make you smile, or that piece of taxidermy that makes you wince – start decluttering and consign to auction, and just surround yourself with things you truly cherish.,,,