AN auction house fronted by a ‘celebrity auctioneer’ has opened up in the oldest part of Tunbridge Wells, in the hope of connecting with sellers across the South East while bringing buyers to its saleroom.
Charles Hanson of Hansons Auctioneers is best known for ‘Bargain Hunt’, ‘Flog It!’ and ‘Antiques Road Trip’, but underneath the theatrical persona is a business-like enterprise which now has five locations across England.
“This will be the only auction house in Tunbridge Wells,” said antiques expert and valuer Robin Fletcher, who heads the new office based in the Corn Exchange.
“Charles Hanson had been looking to get a foothold in the South East outside of London, and Tunbridge Wells makes sense from this point of view,” he explained.
“At the end of the day, there’s plenty of room for everyone.”
However, The Pantiles is a very special place for a saleroom, he stressed. “There have been auctioneers based here on The Pantiles for hundreds of years.
“It attracts quite a lot of visitors. There’s a lot of footfall.”
Meanwhile, there is a lot of antiques expertise in the area for an auctioneer to draw on.
Mr Hanson said: “We will be collaborating with specialist consultants and fine art dealers in the South East. We’re also thrilled to be able to draw on the knowledge of resident specialists on The Pantiles including Eric Knowles, Mark Hill and Dr Robert Woodmansey, among others.”
Horologist Richard Price is also based locally, added Mr Fletcher.
Acting together, Mr Fletcher and Mr Hanson plan to stage auctions with a mixture of in-person and virtual bidding, which has become especially prevalent since the pandemic.
“When people were allowed back into the room after all the restrictions had been lifted, we had 25 per cent of the number from before,” said Mr Fletcher, stressing that this format has thrown open auctions to bidders across the world rather than causing the market to shrink.
“People have found it is so much easier to bid online.
“The global market is everything at the moment, especially the Chinese market and the American market,” he said, noting that the weak pound made it a particularly good time for Americans to buy.
In recognition of the globalised market, he said the auctioneers planned to start auctions a little later than is traditional – at 4pm instead of 10am.
He added: “In reality, we’ve had telephone bids when it turns out the bidder had an alarm set for three o’clock in the morning. If you are spending thousands of pounds on something, you will do that.” However, for those attending in person, there will be a show, stressed Robert Woodmansey, the founder of scottishantiques.com and The Pantiles Arcade.
“The Pantiles Arcade could not wish to partner with a more charismatic, engaging and bill-topping personality than Charles. His passion for the drama of auctions is also reflected in the original role of the building in which we are based, a theatre dating back more than 200 years.”
Hansons Royal Tunbridge Wells plans to hold quarterly sales here in Tunbridge Wells, but local sellers will benefit from charity events, trading on Charles Hanson’s reputation for charity auctions, according to Mr Fletcher.
Such sales, benefitting good causes, would likely only happen annually, but Mr Fletcher has already been in discussion with local charities other events, such as auctioning off ‘promises’ instead of antiques.
“Something like a meal for two – to make lot of money for the charity. We would get nothing but get good PR.
“We could also do charity valuation days, which can be even more frequent, perhaps by taking a donation for each object valued, for example £5 or £1 for charity, on each item, or an ad hoc amount.
“And if any item goes on to be in an auction, they could donate all or part of that sale to the charity.”
“There’s very little we won’t sell.”
Hansons Royal Tunbridge Wells are at The Pantiles Arcade, 49 The Lower Pantiles. The first auction is scheduled for May 23.