The Lockdown Lowdown on Auction Trends

The Lockdown Lowdown on Auction Trends

By Elizabeth Talbot

The first anniversary of the initial impact of Covid19 is upon us and the last 12 months have necessitated and witnessed some previously unimaginable upheavals and changes to all our lives. 

Supermarkets are noticeably less populated as more people choose to buy groceries online and have them home-delivered. Equally Auction Rooms, which have had no choice but to be closed to the public for a large proportion of the time, have been conducting auctions online and it has been interesting to witness the reaction to these. Having seen the full cycle of a year through, it is now possible to assess and critique market trends and auction buyers’ behaviour under severely restricted conditions. Trends have certainly become noticeable and all underlined by immense positivity.

Last March, many people did not understand how to engage with online sale platforms and had to overcome personal scepticism, ignorance, and general resistance to the concept. By contrast, this March will see record numbers of people registering to interact with auctions remotely and at a distance, as a matter of course. Just as our combined familiarity with online business meetings and virtual gatherings with family and friends via video conferencing apps, so bidding and buying remotely, without having viewed in person or engaged with an auctioneer in the room, seems to have become readily accepted as enjoyable and rewarding. It would also appear that the world of auctions has opened-up to a whole new sector of society who would not normally engage with auctions, if indeed they have ever visited an auction house at all.

Bidders who attend our auctions remotely are proving both numerous and very enthusiastic. Activity is very strong right across the spectrum of interests and stiff competition is leading to healthy prices, almost against the odds. There appear to be several motivators to the keen interest expressed in auction lots and here are some of my observations:

There has been more time spent perusing auction catalogues and deliberating prospective purchases. It is obvious customers have been making conscious choices about where to put their money and there are definite signs that investment is being made in homely surroundings via furniture, furnishings and finishing flourishes. Increased time spent at home has inspired people to freshen and change their surroundings and many pieces sold at TW Gaze are obviously bought by private individuals for personal placement around their house and garden. This has sparked a rally in the demand for traditional antique furniture, which has been selling consistently well throughout lockdown, in a way that bucks the trend of pre-pandemic fashion.

Throughout lockdown, potential bidders have confidently relied on the provision of reports by dedicated staff answering specific questions about specific lots of interest to them; this is no more evident than when we approach our Vintage Fashion sales. These auctions of garments, accessories, manor house furnishings and fine needle-works from around the world have a dedicated following by collectors, museums, film companies, theatres, and specialist dealers, who usually prefer to view in person in order to assess quality, condition, originality and appraise dress-sizes. However, there has been no shortage of competitive interest during lockdown, again further fuelled by captive households completing interior design projects.

It is noticeable that unprecedented leisure time is being filled with reading (our dedicated Books & Ephemera Sales, which were popular pre-2020, have seen unswerving interest), hobbies and pastimes (our Toy Sales have benefitted from enthusiasts chasing model kits, Lego, toy trains and soldiers in strong numbers), projects (pieces for restoration and up-cycling have sold well) and interests such as playing and listening to music (vintage vinyl records are very en vogue again, as are cult record-players and speakers).

Meanwhile, antiquarian books have also been providing gateways to pleasures, either currently forbidden to us or of relevance even during lockdown. Topics such as  travel, travel history, exploration and topography are providing virtual escapism; early books on theatre, the arts and vintage sports are selling well, perhaps because it is next best to the real thing; ornithology and local history satisfies hobbyists and academics alike and Victorian and earlier cookery books satisfy the culinary devotees.

Buyers have also been tempted by "bizarre and unique" items as well as small collectables which are easy to have transported and then accommodate and display at home. Likewise, it appears some people are choosing to pro-actively make investment purchases to protect against future uncertainties; in times of world or financial crisis, the demand for and the price of precious metals, especially gold, increases, and this has been witnessed since the beginning of 2020.

I also suggest that many people have been tempted to enter the trading market as a new undertaking and have begun buying and selling antiques, collectables and fine art as a possible source of extra income or as a totally new career path in a time of job insecurity. New interest and fresh motivation feeding into the market leads to shifts in demand, buying patterns and prices (up and down). As 2021 progresses and our busy auction calendar rolls forward, it will be interesting to observe how the current trends and fashions play out, especially as it should soon be possible for us to welcome you back on site to view auctions and bid in person. I am quite sure some people will have changed their buying methods for ever, but equally there are many for whom an open-door policy cannot come soon enough and others, those who have only ever known remote sales, who are eagerly looking forward to sampling “the real thing”. Please see for regular updates on forthcoming sales, catalogues and contact details for specialist consignments.