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The Power Of The Internet In Today’s Antique Market

Philip Serrell, our Antique’s and Fine Art Expert Consultant, reports on two lots, a mother of pearl bowl and some silk undergarments, that have attracted interest from all over the world.

In a recent auction at my saleroom in Malvern, I had two instances of how the auction world has changed dramatically and the world is now the marketplace.  

I was asked to clear a house in Malvern only about a mile from my saleroom, where I discovered a 16th century Indian mother of pearl bowl. This would have been made in the north western Gujarat region of India, and was probably made upon designs provided by travelling Europeans, most likely Portuguese. Having researched the item in some detail, I decided to put a pre-sale estimate of £12,000 - £15,000 on the bowl which measured some 18 inches across, and was secretly hoping to realise a figure of £20,000 - £30,000, seemingly a huge sum of money for a small old mother of pearl bowl, which it had to be said had seen better days. Not surprising really considering it was nearly 500 years old.

On the day of the auction all the telephone lines were booked and the internet screen promised to light up with bids a little like a firework display. There was a lot of pre-sale discussion amongst dealers and collectors as to what the bowl would make, but I think we were all surprised when it sold to a European dealer for £77,000. Interestingly, he was bidding over the internet on a laptop from a desert in the Middle East, whilst the under-bidder was on the telephone from New York.  How the world has changed!

However, this wasn’t the lot for which I claimed the most notoriety in this sale. I was asked to sell a pair of under garments that were once the property of Eva Braun, who was of course Adolph Hitler’s partner. Not the sort of thing that you are asked to deal with on a daily basis in Malvern. These lots again attracted massive interest in the room, on the telephone and through the internet, eventually selling for £2,900. That wasn’t the end of the story however, because I was then contacted by newspapers, radio and television stations from throughout the world, asking for interviews.

It perhaps says a lot for today’s world that a pair of 60 year old silk under garments created more media interest than a 500 year old mother of pearl bowl!

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