A Rolex watch purchased in the 1960s sold for eight times its estimated value at auction. And a brass clock movement, stored in an elderly man’s shed for years, fetched a hammer price 48 times its estimate.
They are just a couple of the many items that have caught valuers by surprise at Batemans auctions.
“But it means that everyone is happy - the vendor gets far more than expected and the bidder is delighted to have discovered something,” said Greg Bateman, managing director of the auctioneers and valuers in Stamford.
More than 900 lots of furniture, jewellery, ceramics and paintings are sold every month at the salerooms in Ryhall Road, Stamford. In January a record 1,000 bidders have vied for 930 lots.
“It’s the first time that we’ve had more bidders than lots,” said Greg, 30, who took over the business three years ago when his sister Kate, who started the auction house with their father Ron, moved to America – both remain valuers and directors at the business.
Until then the former Oundle School pupil, who studied engineering at Nottingham University, had worked for Perkins in Peterborough.
Most of the items sold at Batemans come from the surrounding area – Stamford, Bourne, Oakham, Spalding and Peterborough with a few items from further afield.
Other items that gave sellers a pleasant surprise included a 1936 television set, left in a garage in Spalding since the 1960s and valued at between £2,000 and £3,000 – the hammer went down at £7,200; and a snuff box, made in Dresden in about 1970, of amethyst quartz, spotted during a valuation day in Bourne was valued at £1,000 to £1,500. “Intense competition” from bidders pushed the sale price to £6,800.
A 19th century brass clock movement – the mechanics inside a grandfather clock – had been in the shed of an elderly gentleman who, when his brother died. He opted to sell some of the items left there for years.
It was valued at £30 to £50.but sold for £2,400.
The owner of the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Submariner, Derek Fentiman, had not expected anywhere near the price the gentleman’s wristwatch fetched.
He said: “I was over the moon.”
Mr Fentiman, 78, who lives in Bourne, with wife June, bought the watch in 1963 at the NAAFI shop in Sharjah, in the Arabian Gulf, while serving with the RAF, in the 1960s.
The former mechanical transport driver, whose job included transporting 1,000lb bombs on to ships from the RAF base, who decided to sell the watch to put the money towards a new car added: “We could not spend money on anything else, so I thought I might as well have something special.”
He paid £604.60 for the watch which he wore for 20 years before putting it away in a safe because the £200 cost of getting it serviced was too much.
The couple plan to use the money to pay off some of the hire-purchase cost of the new car they recently bought.
The Rolex created “considerable excitement” at the January auction.
Greg said: “It was quite scuffed, but loads of commission bids started to come in, so we were aware that we may have missed something.”
Seven telephone bidders joined buyers in the room and online to push the £1,800 to £2,000 estimated for the watch to £11,000.
The tiny number “200” embossed on the clock face was what made the difference. Popular with divers the watch was usable to a depth of 200 metres under water, and one of the early versions.
Sales at Batemans are conducted by auctioneer David Palmer, who has been with the company for 10 years.
Valuations are carried out by a team of experts including John Ireland, Jessica Wall and Sophie Chapman with consultants coming in from time to time.
Greg said valuations were “not even close to an exact science” as, almost always, it depends on how many people want it.
“Every lot is different,” he said. “We have access to a large database of items that sold in the past and we refer to that as well.
“What we have to decide, based on whether it is a good day or bad day, is whether the price which is picked will attract bidders. Valuations need to be realistic but you nearly always expect a lot to do something different to what you estimated.”
Twelve years ago when the business was started by the family from Oundle and sales were held in Stamford Corn Exchange, there would be a bidding war if two people spotted it, Greg said.
“Now tens of thousands of people see the catalogue and if it’s something you did not know about but someone else did it can go for a huge amount,” he said.
“Usually they are private collector in which case it’s impossible to tell how much someone is prepared to pay.
“When calls start coming in with people asking very specific questions, we know there is more to the lot than we had probably imagined, as was the case with the Rolex and the clock movement.”
Other items that have taken valuers by surprise have include four old plastic telephones, that thousands of people threw away when modern alternatives arrived, went for £300.
A Chinese carved ivory half-tusk estimated at £400 to £600 sold for £12,000. It was part of a collection of Oriental items that belonged to a Norwich vendor whose father had been a tea buyer and taster in China in the 19th century. His collection of ivory figures and carvings, okimono, netsuke, scent bottles, ceramics, jades and painted scrolls had remained in a loft for decades. They sold in April 2011 for £80,000.
Auctions are largely unaffected whatever the state of the economy, with bargains at every sale.
Greg said: “During growth years people have money so they buy in the sale. In a recession they don’t have money so they sell items. Which means you have a steady quantity of items coming in.
“When there’s a lot of stuff, it drives the prices down so there’s bargains to be had.
“And most of all the items you buy have a history, they are green and they are value for money.”
The next antiques and modern auction at Batemans is on Saturday, February 1 and a fine art sale takes place on Saturday, February 15. For details of catalogues go to the Batemas website.