Musings on the market
Volume 56, Number 3, March 2018
A rookie mistake SINCE last year when I announced that I was selling my collection, both in order to finance a big purchase and to start a new theme, I have been inundated with questions about my decision and about the sale itself and now that collection has, mostly, gone under the hammer, I will try to answer a few of those queries now. Firstly, do I regret selling up? Yes, of course I do. I had built up my collection across more than a decade and I was proud of it, so letting it go was difficult, and it hasn’t got any easier. I am currently in that odd state known to many (ex) collectors of being rather lost and a little bereft. That said, I had to sell up so I just have to man up about it don’t I?! Why did I choose auction and why DNW? The first part was, I’m afraid, all about ego—I could have sold via a dealer, most will make you very reasonable offers or indeed sell on commission and it is well worth checking with your favourite dealer as well as talking to auction houses before you make up your mind how to sell. But in my case I’m afraid I quite liked the idea of having a “named collection” in a sale and maybe one day seeing “ex Mussell collection” in someone else’s catalogue—whether that worked in my favour or against me I shall never know! As to why DNW—well, they are obviously a superb auction house and I knew they’d do me proud, but more importantly from my point of view was the timing. I needed a sale that would allow me to get a payment by late October to complete my purchase and their September sale did exactly that; I could just as easily have chosen one of the other big auction houses who regularly advertise within these pages, all are excellent, it just so happened that the DNW sale fitted in with what I needed time-wise. Was I happy with the sale? I was certainly happy with DNW—Oliver Pepys handled the whole thing for me right from discussing the estimates that I felt happy with, through deciding what was to be in each part of the sale and why, and on to some excellent cataloguing. I am rather ashamed to admit that I learned a few things about my own groups and their recipients by reading the catalogues—things I had somehow missed in my own research! I couldn’t have asked for better service, although I am certain that any of the others would have been just as helpful and professional. Did I attend the sale? No, I decided neither to attend the sale nor listen to it live as I normally would. I didn’t for one minute think it was going to be a disaster, but I just couldn’t take that risk. I just couldn’t be there, or even be listening, as lot after lot was left unsold and I was left bereft (I knew in reality that would never happen, but even so!) and so all I could do was sit in my office and wait for the results. Was I happy with the prices realised? Ah now this one isn’t so easy to answer—I certainly should have been, I got what I was hoping for and what I needed but . . . For those of you who have never sold at auction, what happens is that when the sale is over you get a break down of all the lots sold together with the final figure that you will receive (that is the hammer price less seller’s commission). In DNW’s case they sent out an email the moment my part of the sale was done so I knew exactly how much everything had sold for. Now, as with every collector, I knew roughly what my medals were worth, both as a buyer and a seller, and so my eye immediately went to the total figure: the money I would get in my bank account. I had an idea it ould be around £x but would it be £x plus a little or £x minus a little. I knew it wouldn’t be £x minus a great deal as whilst I hadn’t put reserves on things I knew DNW would use their discretion and not let anything sell too cheaply, but nevertheless when that email came through my heart was beating just a little faster. Would I have enough to make the purchase? Would I have some left over? Would I perhaps have to borrow? Was I going to be elated or disappointed? When I first looked at the figures I was very happy—I knew I wasn’t going to be filthy rich (my discussions with Oliver had ensured that the estimates were realistic and I didn’t expect there to be any real hidden gems that were going to take off and make me millions, but one always hopes!) but I was more than content—the figure was roughly what I had hoped for and more than enough to cover what I needed, I was a happy man. I should, of course, have left it there. I had what I wanted, I should walk away—but oh no, I couldn’t leave it alone and so started looking at what each individual lot made and that’s where the angst kicked in; because, true to human nature, I ignored the numerous lots that had made me a very reasonable profit and concentrated instead on those that hammered for less than I’d initially paid. It’s a rookie mistake and one that caused me anxiety when none was necessary. Anyone who has ever sold a collection at auction will tell you that that’s what happens: some things make more, some things make less and you just have to roll with it hoping that the end result is what you want. I, of course, decided to analyse every lot and try to work out why I had paid more than others were prepared to. It caused me more anxiety than it should have and, ultimately, was a futile exercise. What I should have done is realise that I had a decade of enjoyment out of my collection and, at the end of the day, came out of it having not only not lost anything but actually making a small profit, so what if one group I prized highly didn’t have the same appeal to others as it did to me? Did that detract from the enjoyment I’d had whilst owning it? Of course not, and so I will leave you now with this piece of advice—if you decide to sell your collection, don’t make the rookie mistake I did. Simply look at the bottom line and leave it at that, you’ll save yourself a lot of angst if you do!
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