After the £51m find, the nation will be ransacking their houses for would-be treasures
by Bunny Campione
The news of the elderly lady who was clearing out her late brother's house in Pinner, north London, and discovered the vase gathering dust on top of the bookshelves, a vase which started life in China's Imperial Palace in the 18th century, has just tapped into the dreams of millions. All over Britain this weekend people will be climbing into their attics.
It never ceases to amaze me how records keep breaking in the art world and this doesn't just apply to antiques such as the 16in Qianlong vase that realised £51m last week. What about Andy Warhol's 1962 painting of a Coca-Cola bottle. This recently made more than $22m in New York. If I could afford it, I'd rather have a painting by Turner, but that could set me back £63m.
Whenever The Antiques Roadshow arrives in a town, everybody rushes round their houses, cellars and attics. I shall never forget the Chinese bowl which the owners had used for their dog's water and which turned out to be worth thousands of pounds. Then there was the couple who never intended to go to the Roadshow, but the dog needed a walk and, because it was raining, they went to get an umbrella from the stand where they had left a rolled-up picture they didn't like. It turned out to be by the famous (and mad) painter Richard Dadd . It was apparently sold for £90,000 and is now in the British Museum.
One word of warning – never leave an unlimited bid for a lot, however much you want it. When I was in charge of the teddy bear auctions at Sotheby's, two separate agents asked my advice on what price I thought a particular bear should reach. I told both of them that it shouldn't make more than a hammer price of £3,000.
Both had been instructed to buy it and when the telephone bidder dropped out at £58,000, the agent in the saleroom achieved success at £60,000. The telephone bidder had to tell her boss at what figure she had dropped out and the boss replied: "Phew – thank goodness – I was going to give the bear to my three-year old son for Christmas!"
Before every Roadshow, I'm not alone in having nightmares that I get a valuation wrong. Apparently, the brother of the elderly lady who sold the £51m vase had taken it to Going for a Song, the forerunner of The Antiques Roadshow, some 40 years ago and the specialist had pronounced it "a very clever reproduction". I should love to know who valued this vase at £800 only three months ago.
So, remember the people who slaked their dog's thirst using a Chinese bowl, and don't just look in your attic. The next discovery could be in front of your eyes, something you use every day or don't rate highly. I never tire of seeing what will be brought in for us to value. It's like Christmas. Out of that brown paper bag could be a wonderful surprise.
I hope the auctioneer had smelling salts ready when he brought down the hammer – the seller had to be taken outside after her expression changed from a smile to amazement to complete shock and she could hardly breathe.
What, I wonder, will be the next world auction record? It could be you needing the smelling salts.
Bunny Campione is a member of the BBC's Antiques Roadshow team and runs her own antiques consultancy