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Jonathan Pratt of Bargain Hunt talks about auctions

PUBLISHED: 11:23 19 November 2010 | UPDATED: 11:22 15 March 2018

Staff at Bellman's on a sale day

Staff at Bellman's on a sale day

Jonathan Pratt, of BBC TV's Bargain Hunt, is managing director of a Sussex auction house, Bellmans, near Billingshurst. He talks to us about the trade

Jonathan Pratt is one of those rare people who is just like he is on the telly. That is to say engaging, charming and very chatty. Add to that an encyclopaedic knowledge of antiques and collectables and the fact that he runs one of Sussex’s leading auction houses and he is just the man to tell us how it all really works.

Thirty-seven-year-old Jonathan has run Bellmans which is based at Wisborough Green, near Billingshurst, for the past five years. They handle sales totalling between £2million to £3million a year.

They hold 11 sales a year, each running over three days with up to 2,000 lots. They also hold four specialist book sales. Values achieved range from £40 collectables up to artworks running into thousands of pounds.

Their stock comes from Sussex, Hampshire, Surrey and parts of Kent and London as do their buyers.

Much of the stock comes from what the trade calls the three ‘Ds’ – death, debt and divorce, to which Jonathan says you can now add a fourth ‘D’ – downsizing.

As you might expect he says that now is a great time to buy, “Some things selling now are no more expensive than in the 80s, others are cheaper, a George the Third mahogany bureau that used to go for £1,000 will reach £500-£700 today.

“Now is a good time to buy because the market is on the way up.”

And he says the reason to buy now is not just to buy things that will increase in value, there are other compelling reasons to go for antiques.

“Antiques are green. Look at this 1760 card table, it’s 240 years old, it’s been here a long time, it’s not just been shipped over from China and it is more sustainable, it will last longer.”

As with all items for the home, the furnishings going through the auction market follow fashion. The current fashion is for shabby chic, painted furniture that has been distressed, scruffy pine is also very popular.

And previous fashions can affect collectable values now. Jonathan said he saw an 18carat gold Patek Philippe watch valued at £20,000 to £30,000 recently that would have been worth £60,000 to £80,000 had it been the stainless steel version because they are much rarer. Perversely, the steel watch would have been much cheaper when new.

The world of auctions like everything else has been affected by the internet. He says that eBay has taken a lot of items from the former bottom end of the market but points out that for more expensive items where the buyer needs to verify the condition there is no substitute for an auction plus the confidence of dealing with reputable companies.

Bellmans is thinking of investing in a live bidding system so that people can bid in real time via the internet rather than by putting in a bid before the auction starts or by an agent via the telephone.

Bellmans is a member of the Societyof Fine Art Auctioneers and Valuers and all works valued at more than £1,000 are checked with the Art Loss Register before being offered for sale.

The company likes to put something back into its local community and Jonathan wields the hammer at many charity auctions in the county.

Jonathan said: “I am not in the position to donate much money to charity, so instead I offer my services as an auctioneer for free to charities organising a fund raising event.”

He normally does six to eight events a year. Some of the interesting lots he has sold so far include a Jaguar XK8, a return flight on a private jet for 12 to Nice, two pounds of sausages, a silver tea kettle on stand, a Fender Stratocaster signed by Mark Knopfler and John Illsley, and Mark Foster’s Olympic swim suit with events lasting half an hour to six hours.

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